The international release of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” is igniting backlash over the decision to use a white actor to dub the film’s Black lead character. “Soul” has been widely celebrated for being the first Pixar movie to feature a Black main character, in this case a music teacher and jazz musician named Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx in the U.S. release). Director Pete Docter relied on co-director Kemp Powers and co-writer Mike Jones, plus a “cultural brain trust” of Black artists, to ensure the film accurately represented African-American culture. And yet, Joe is dubbed by white actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas in Denmark.
According to The New York Times, Lie Kaas’ voice role in the Danish “Soul” release led to scholars and activists using the national newspaper Berlingske to explain how “the casting was an example of structural racism.” The article resulted in “a fiery controversy, prompting Lie Kaas to issue a statement about why he had accepted the role.”
“My position with regards to any job is very simple,” Lie Kaas wrote on Facebook. “Let the man or woman who can perform the work in the best possible way get the job.”
Danish activist Asta Selloane Sekamane was one of the dissenters of Lie Kass’ casting. According to The Times, Sekamane said in an interview that “no one can claim there wasn’t enough Black talent to fill the main roles, because actors of color were hired to voice some of the minor parts.”
“It can’t be the constant excuse, this idea that we can’t find people who live up to our standards,” Sekamane added. “That’s an invisible bar that ties qualification to whiteness.”
Denmark isn’t the only country upset over local dubs of “Soul.” A petition to redo the “Soul” dubbing in Portugal has garnered over 17,000 signatures and counting. The petition states: “This movie is not just another movie, and representation matters.”
In Germany, the “Soul” character Joe is voiced by dubbing artist Charles Rettinghaus, who is white. Rettinghaus has been dubbing films in Germany for four decades and is the voice of actors Jean-Claude Van Damme and Javier Bardem. Rettinghaus has also dubbed Jamie Foxx in movies for over 20 years.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Black, you should be and are allowed to dub anything,” Rettinghaus said. “Why shouldn’t you play a white actor or an Indian or an Asian?”
Kaze Uzumaki is a Black voice artist who recorded the German dub for the Black “Soul” character Paul, voiced by Daveed Diggs in the U.S. release. Uzumaki told The Times that while “you should be allowed to dub anything” is a nice thought, the opportunities that exist in the industry create an unfair advantage. As Uzumaki noted, he’s always hired to dub characters of color and never contacted to dub white characters like Rettinghaus is.
“At first, I really didn’t like it,” Uzumaki said. “But I figured I was more comfortable with me speaking the role than a lot of other white colleagues who don’t have a good knowledge of the English language, and can’t really tell what a Black person sounds like.”
“Soul” is now streaming in the U.S. on Disney+. Head over to The New York Times’ website to read the full story on the backlash.