YouTube star Arif Zahir will be joining the voice cast of FOX's Family Guy starting with the 19th season (which just started production) in the role of Cleveland Brown, originally voiced by Mike Henry. Having voiced the character since the series premiered in 1999, Henry stepped down from the role in June and urged that a person of color be cast to play the character: "I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color." With the 18th season already in advanced stages of animation when Henry stepped down, his voice will be heard during the season. Henry will also continue to voice Bruce the Performance Artist and Herbert the Pedophile, as well as a number of characters in the animated series' vast ensemble.
"Firstly, I'm eternally grateful to have received this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Zahir said. "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."
Over the past few months, the fallout from the controversy has seen Kristen Bell stepping away from her role as mixed-race character Molly on HBO's Central Park (with The Umbrella Academy star Emmy Raver-Lampman cast) and Jenny Slate stepping away from voicing biracial character Missy on Netflix's Big Mouth (with Ayo Edebiri taking over the role), while The Simpsons announced that non-white characters will no longer be voiced by white actors going forward. "I welcome Arif to the Family Guy team," Henry said. "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."