Soul: considered too “white”, the European dubbing of Pixar’s latest film is causing a stir


The main character – an African-American musician – is voiced by a white actor in Portugal and Denmark. A heresy for some that would go against the spirit of the film. Worse, it would translate a “Systemic racism”.

Released on Disney +, on December 25, Drunk is Pixar’s first animated feature film to feature an African-American character at the center of its story. An important step widely welcomed in the United States, but which is partly bypassed in some European countries where the role is distributed by … white actors.

So far, everything seemed to be doing pretty well at Drunk. Critically acclaimed upon its release on the Disney + streaming service, animation studio Pixar’s latest addition tells the story of Joe Gardner, a New York pianist and music teacher who, following an accident, finds itself propelled into a strange and fantastic world – the Great Before – where the souls of newborns develop before they come into the world.

Dubbed by Jamie Foxx in its original version, and by Omar Sy in its French version, the – central – character of Joe Gardner has however aroused hostile reactions in Portugal and Denmark, two countries where the role has been entrusted to an actor from white dubbing, respectively Jorge Mourato and Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

Dubbing in dissonance with the intention of the film

In Portugal, where the controversy arose from the release of the film in December, a petition calling for a new dubbing produced with the help of people of color has already been signed by more than 17,500 people. Without questioning the quality of the dubbing in itself, the text of this petition – which was signed and supported by several personalities of the country – calls “to respect the initial intention“From Drunk, namely to be “the first animated film with a black protagonist, played by black voices. The words respect, representativeness and intention are essential here“.

Signatory of the petition, actress Ana Sofia Martins recalled, in an interview with the Portuguese daily Publico , than “calling on actors from minorities cannot be considered a fad, it must be the rule“.

Similar criticisms have also been leveled in Denmark. As an article in the national daily observed Berlingske published on December 31, if two color actors, Melvin Kakooza and rapper Al Agami, are present in the Danish version of Drunk, the main role nevertheless fell to a white actor. Asked by the newspaper, Asta Sekamane, member of the board of directors of the Afro Danish Collective, qualified this choice as representative “a missed opportunity», Which is also in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Observations that the main interested party rejects: “My position in relation to any profession is very simple. Let the man or woman who can do the job in the best possible way get the jobNikolaj Lie Kaas, Danish voice of Joe Gardner, said on Facebook.

Joe Gardner inside the Half Note Club. If jazz is very important to the atmosphere of Drunk, the theme of the film is more about identity and the search for meaning. DISNEY / PIXAR

Distribution of roles and systemic racism

A way of seeing that categorically rejected Asta Sekamane: “It’s always the same excuse, this idea that we can’t find people who live by our standards. There is an invisible barrier which connects competence to whiteness.

As an article in the New York Times published this weekend, the dubbing affair of Drunk precisely highlights the work that still remains to be done in certain European countries in terms of combating systemic racism. A situation confirmed by Mira Skadegard, researcher at Aalborg University: “In Denmark we have a long history of denial of racism, together with a deep attachment to the ideal of equality. ” A mixture which too often relegates – even when the occasion lends itself best – the actors of color to subordinate roles, if not negatively connoted.

Drunk was also pinned in the United States, notably media Insider and Gizmodo, for a handful of racist storytelling schemes it would feature (invisibility of the protagonist’s skin color for the majority of the film, monstrous transformation, etc.). And this, despite the presence of a robust team of consultants – made up of African-American Pixar employees as well as personalities such as Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones – upstream of the production of the animated feature film.

In France, the controversy is growing. Some prefer to laugh about it if not to cry. This is the case of Mathieu Madénian who has great difficulty for those who will notice that SpongeBob is, unfortunately, not doubled by a sponge …

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