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Fox’s Family Guy has found its new Cleveland Brown.
YouTuber and voice actor Arif Zahir will take over the role for the Fox animated show’s 19th season, which is set to air in the 2021-22 season. Series creator Seth MacFarlane and showrunners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin announced the casting Friday.
Mike Henry, who has voiced the character throughout the show’s run — and on spinoff The Cleveland Show — said in June that he would step away from the part as a number of animated series reexamined the casting of characters of color. Henry will continue to voice other characters and write for Family Guy.
“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry wrote in June. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
Henry’s voice will still be part of the show’s 18th season, which premieres Sunday. Fox earlier this week renewed Family Guy for seasons 19 and 20; Zahir will begin voicing Cleveland in season 19, which is beginning production.
“Firstly, I’m eternally grateful to have received this once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Zahir. “When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown — my favorite cartoon character of all time — I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again. When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To Rich Appel, Alec Sulkin and Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down.”
Said Henry, “I welcome Arif to the Family Guy team. Arif’s vocal talent is obvious, but his understanding of Cleveland and his respect for the character give me confidence that he is in the right hands. I look forward to getting to know Arif and working with him to make sure Cleveland stays every bit as awesome as he has always been.”
The casting of Zahir comes on the heels of The Simpsons announcing that Alex Désert will voice a Black character, Carl Carlson, at least for Sunday’s season premiere. The show has also committed to casting actors of color to voice non-white roles, in a shift from its long-time stance. Netflix’s Big Mouth and Apple’s Central Park have also made similar moves.
Zahir, also known as Azerrz, has more than 6 million followers on YouTube, where his impressions videos — including Cleveland, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — regularly rack up a million views or more. He is repped by CAA.
A video of Zahir doing the voice of Cleveland as he plays Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — and paying tribute to Henry — is below.
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