White Actor Defends Voicing Black Animated Character Because He Grew Up "Urban"


On Friday, April 20th, the new "Spy Kids: Mission Critical" animated TV show will launch on Netflix. Based on the popular film series, the show will center on brother-and-sister team Juni and Carmen Cortez. who attend Spy Kids Academy, a top secret spy school for kid agents. When a new counter-spy agency threatens the safety of the world, it will be up to junior spies Juni and Carmen to train and lead a team of fellow Spy Kids cadets against the forces of S.W.A.M.P. (Sinister Wrongdoers Against Mankind's Preservation) and their diabolical leader, Golden Brain. The Mission Critical team may not be ready, but they are the only ones to call when grown-up spies can't do the job.

One of the supporting characters on the show is "Psi". Not much is known about the character other than he seems to be a dapper dresser and is black. The voice actor playing the role, however, is white. Below is an image of the character, Psi and Travis Turner who is voicing him.

Now to be clear, while many might not feel this is a big deal, it should be noted that white actors voicing characters of color is a long-standing practice in animated entertainment. Shows like Bob's Burgers, Family Guy, and Bojack Horseman do it. Avatar: The Last Airbender had a practically all-white cast and The Simpsons is going through its own controversy as well. 

So seeing another white actor voice a character of color isn't uncommon in the voice-acting industry. However, what is new is Turner's justification for it. 

When asked by a cameraman, last night, about how he would feel about any potential backlash from the black community over his casting, Turner's response was a bit problematic. 

After stating that he has a couple of hip-hop tracks coming out he says, 

"If they want they can say whatever. I actually come from an urban background. I lived in motels. What I’m trying to say, I relate to the urban community.”   

TMZ.com has the video clip, which goes on for an excruciatingly additional minute where Turner explains that he grew up idolizing black culture and how social media is dividing us(which doesn't relate to this conversation at all). And then he gives us a short clip of him essentially talking as his character and rapping a verse from his likely unlistenable hip-hop track. The whole thing is cringeworthy. 

While I have some issues with the casting of Turner in the role, I have a bigger issue with his defense of it. Someone tell me how living in motels assimilates you with black culture? Also, I'm a huge fan of hip-hop, but that doesn't justify me going out and auditioning for black roles and appropriating black culture. 

Also, not for nothing Mr. Turner but you grew up in Oliver, British Columbia which isn't is exactly an urban community but instead, better known as the "Wine Capital of Canada". Judging from the photos below, it's not exactly Compton. 

Granted, I don't know what this cameraman was expecting given what was likely shot outside a bar in the early morning hours. You don't usually get in-depth, nuanced answers about race culture in 21st Century America outside of Craig's in WeHo at 2 AM. 

So what should have Turner done in the moment? Who knows, but anything would have been better than what he said. 

Truth be told, in 2018, with all of the new awareness over casting equality, Turner should probably never been cast in the role in the first place. Especially not in a show that's source material was so proudly Latino. Created by Robert Rodriguez, many of the film's installments featured largely Latino casts. So it's a bit odd that they would reverse the direction of its animated version. 

Either way, I do think the voice over industry is due for its own wave of casting equality movement, and Turner's casting and defense of it might just be the catalyst it needs.

Anyway, here is Turner's (or his rap persona "Little T) single, "Feelin' Me" which is....well....Good luck with this one Netflix.