While diversity in many programmes today, whether live-action or animated, is relatively prevalent, African and African-American presence in cartoons has been quite scarce over the past quarter-century. Few shows attempted to confront or portray the lack of minorities, instead having “token” characters of colour complete a grudging quota on the show.
Nonetheless, a few significant outliers stood out as admirable, if not unique, depictions of Black folks and their lifestyles. So, here is a list of some of the best black cartoon characters you must be aware of!
Kwame (voiced by LeVar Burton), a youngster from Africa, was given a magical ring that granted him dominion over the element of earth. The de facto team captain of “The Planeteers,” a quintet of multinational eco-evangelists who traversed the world thwarting the mad plots of a series of colourful, recurrent eco-villains.
We would always look forward to his characteristic remark, “Let our abilities unite,” immediately before his friends chipped in to call the show’s mainstay superhero “Captain Planet” in the episode’s climactic final act. Growing up, it was unusual to see a (young) Black man in a position of authority, which was very appealing to me.
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“Fillmore!” was created by Scott M Gimple and starred a 12-year-old juvenile investigator (or “safety patrol officer”) named Cornelius Fillmore (voice by Orlando Brown). The animation, which was based on famous procedural police dramas and cliché detective series, featured a former career young criminal turned law enforcement solving tiny but intricate crimes at his middle school.
Fillmore, the intellectual straight guy, would be accompanied by Ingrid Third, his feminine goth companion and fellow repentant felon (voice by Tara Strong). While it was Walt Disney Television Animation’s final series, Fillmore’s somewhat innovative idea and excellent execution earned it a cult following when it aired. However, it only survived two seasons, from 2002 to 2004.
3. The Cleveland Show Characters
The Cleveland Show was a spin-off starring one of its several supporting characters, the sleepy, somewhat obese best buddy Cleveland Brown. It was created to cash in on the popularity of the sarcastic and lowbrow animated family sitcom “Family Guy.”
It wasn’t difficult to understand that “Family Guy” was a “Black” version of its creators’ and producers’ previous work because each primary cast member was a clone of those in the original programme. Cleveland and his son Jr. (voiced by Mike Henry).
4. Gerald Johanssen
In 1996, Nickelodeon debuted “Hey Arnold!” a slice-of-life animated sitcom about a blond-haired 4th Grade kid with a football-shaped head who lives in the inner city with his friends, family, and neighbours. Gerald Johanssen, Arnold’s best buddy, was one of its supporting characters (voiced by Jamil Walker Smith).
Gerald is an easygoing, calm guy, distinguished with his distinctive stretched hi-top fade and red shirt number 33. Gerald and his family were the only African-Americans on the show, making his presence all the more noticeable. Arnold and Gerald are nearly intertwined throughout the programme, sharing numerous episodes’ adventures and shenanigans.
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The super-chill cryokinetic Frozone (actual name “Lucius Closest”, played by Samuel L Jackson) is one of Bob Parr’s long-time best buddies and crime-fighting sidekick to his super-strong alter persona, Mr. Incredible. In the first film, “The Incredibles,” Frozone is the main hero’s wingman and family buddy (2004). While his total involvement was limited, Frozone is the film’s only notable superhero.
His comic personality earned him a tiny fan base. He was demoted to the third act of the animated feature in the sequel (2018). Nonetheless, he played an important role in the story’s conclusion.
Marketed as Disney’s final 2D/traditionally animated film, 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog” – a musical love comedy – would ultimately be the swan song to the industry juggernaut’s decades-long reign of feature-length animated masterpieces created since 1937. The narrative is set in 1920s New Orleans and is based on the fable “The Frog Prince.”
Tiana (played by Anika Noni Rose) is an African-American waitress who aspires to create her own restaurant to fulfil her dream with her late father. When a foreign noble named Prince Naveen arrives in their town, Tiana is hired by her friend Charlotte, a White southern belle, to woo the prince into marrying Charlotte with Tiana’s excellent food.
7. The Cosby Kids & Fat Albert
“Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” which debuted in 1972 courtesy of the successful animation company Filmation, was the creation of millionaire comedian and TV star Bill Cosby and was based on his friends and experiences growing up in Philadelphia.
Cosby not only helped conceive the show but also made bookend appearances in each episode and provided voices for several of the characters. It was both an amusing and informative programme that focused on a group of Black adolescent males who lived in the impoverished and turbulent inner city and were portrayed as exaggerated caricatures.
8. Joe Gardner
While “The Princess and the Frog” was Disney’s first animated feature picture featuring a Black lead character, it would be another 11 years before they tried again. “Soul,” a humorous drama about a recently departed aspiring jazz pianist and music instructor named Joe Gardner, was co-created with the purchase of “Pixar” studio and released in theatres (and Disney streaming service subscribers) in 2020. (voiced by Jamie Foxx).
After entering the “great beyond,” Joe attempts to resurrect himself to fulfil his ambition of becoming a famous jazz artist. In doing so, he becomes involved with a hesitant pre-corporal soul named “22,” who generally has a pessimistic outlook on life.
9. The Proud Family Cast
“The Proud Family,” which debuted on the Disney Channel in 2001, was an animated family sitcom that focused on the amusing exploits of Penny Proud, a 14-year-old rowdy daughter (voiced by Kyla Pratt) growing up with her family and friends.
Penny’s overprotective and hyperactive father, Oscar (voiced by Tommy Davidson), Penny’s levelheaded mother, Trudy (voiced by Paula Jai Parker), Penny’s trouble-making infant twin siblings, BeBe & CeCe (both voiced by Tara Strong), and the eccentric and sassy “Suga Mama” (voiced by Jo Marie Payton) round out the family.
Storm, sometimes known as Ororo Munroe, is one of the most well-known female black cartoon characters. Unlike her counterpart from the live-action rendition of the series, Halle Berry, who is featured in an all-black avatar, Storm is portrayed in an all-white outfit. She can manipulate the weather.