Mike Henry, who had voiced Brown since the show’s inception in 1999, announced in June that he was stepping down from the role. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color,” Henry, who is white, said in his announcement about playing Cleveland, who is black.
Henry will remain a voice cast series regular on Family Guy, He will continue to play Bruce the Performance Artist, Herbert the Pedophile and a slew of ancillary roles and likely will help create new characters to voice.
Zahir will begin voicing Cleveland for Season 19 episodes which have just begun production. In Season 18, whose episodes had already been completed or were in advanced stages of animation when Henry exited the Cleveland role, will continue to feature Henry as the character. The season premieres Sunday night with the show’s 350th episode.
“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.”
Family Guy, which was just renewed for Seasons 19 and 20 by Fox, is being steered by creator/executive producer Seth MacFarlane and exec producers/showrunners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin.
“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.”
Zahir has done a slew of Cleveland Brown impersonations on his YouTube channel that have raked in millions of views. You can watch one of the videos below.
Cleveland is one of several characters of color who have been recast with actors of color in the past couple of months after the white actors who had portrayed them exited the roles. The changes are part of a movement to end voiceover whitewashing in TV animation.