The world of animation hasn’t always been good at showing proper representation when it comes to people of color, especially if we’re talking about the many shades of Black.
Thankfully that’s changed for the better in recent times, with companies like Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and others creating shows specifically with non-white leads and a culturally diverse cast of characters altogether. Above all the move was successful in making kids of all colors feel seen, recently proven with a viral report not too long ago of a two-year-old curly-haired Black boy who positively compared himself to Kenzo from Disney’s hit Latin American-themed film Encanto.
As the future of animation is shaping up to show way more diversity in the drawing process, it only felt right to honor the many iconic Black characters who paved the way for that to be possible.
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With every decade following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that jumpstarted the fight to end racial segregation and discrimination, we’ve seen characters of color steadily arrive in popular media that allowed Black people to enter a world of imagination separate from the real-life uproar happening in the streets. Early credits go to Charles Schulz’s introduction of Franklin, the first Black Peanuts character, in the wake of MLK Jr’s assassination months prior, and evolved into moments like the Junkyard Gang giving us a hilarious-yet-historically-correct look at what life for adolescents in North Philly was like in the 70s and 80s. From there, we’ve seen everything from talking toddlers, a royal princess and a handful of superheroes amongst other animated trailblazers that represented on TV and film with Black excellence.
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Take a look below at some of our favorite Black cartoon characters that broke racial barriers when it came to showing our proper place in the world of animation:
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21 Black Cartoon Characters That Broke Barriers On Film & Television was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. T’CHALLA / BLACK PANTHER
Marvel’s Black Panther
The effort put into casting for this series is enough to validate its importance, from Djimon Hounsou as the titular King of Wakanda to Jill Scott as Storm and even Kerry Washington voicing fan-favorite Shuri. While most will hold the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Black Panther to the highest regard, the animated alternative that pre-dates the live-action movies deserves proper credit as well.
2. PRINCESS TIANA
Disney’s The Princess and The Frog
Before Princess Tiana, Disney was drastically lacking in the diversity department outside of Princess Jasmine and Pocahontas. Her 2009 debut as the first Black Disney Princess, in addition to the overall New Orleans backstory, still inspires little Black girls everywhere to see themselves in a royal light.
3. MILES MORALES / SPIDER-MAN
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
After decades of always seeing comic book hero Spider-Man portrayed by the blue-eyed Peter Parker, the introduction of Miles Morales as his Afro-Latino replacement during the 2011 Ultimate Fallout limited series really changed the game. However, it was the 2018 animated filmed that truly made the character an icon in Black culture, even without the Oscar win.
The world is still waiting for Frozone and his family to rightfully get their own spinoff after the impact they made as supporting characters in The Incredibles. Disney+, the people have spoken!
5. BLACK DYNAMITE
In addition to the star-studded lineup of celebrity guest voice actors, Black Dynamite gave us a 70s-inspired blaxpoitation hero-for-hire that fought crime without ever forgetting to keep it funky. Respect the player.
6. STORM / ORORO MUNROE
X-Men: The Animated Series
Of all the Black heroes and villains within the Marvel Universe, none come close to what Storm has represented for Black women and the culture in general. Her strength and importance within the X-Men is never questioned, and she’s always depicted in a regal manner. Nothing short of inspirational.
7. MR. T
On top of jumpstarting the career of veteran Black voice actor Phil LaMarr, Mister-T further proved what was made obvious in the ’80s: Mr. T is a legend! We pity the fool who thinks otherwise.
8. THE JACKSONS
The Jackson 5ive
Black America’s favorite family band became even more beloved when they got their own cartoon series in the early 70s. The way their hits were incorporated into the show even introduced a clever way of marketing music.
9. HUEY & RILEY
Choosing between these two would literally be like picking a favorite child, so we’ll include them as a pair as it always should be. Opposite as they may be in personality, both Huey and Riley are equally important characters when it came to speaking the real on modern day Black culture.
10. WILLIAM “LITTLE BILL” GLOVER JR.
Even though it’s unfortunate to see the man he ultimately turned out to be in real life, Bill Cosby’s delivery with Little Bill still holds up for what it represented to little Black boys with vivid imaginations.
11. JODIE LANDON
Seeing Jodie as a picture-perfect teen in the “sick sad world” of Daria was refreshing, and her willingness to openly address the lack of diversity in Lawndale made her one of the earliest woke icons. Those box braids made for another touch of Black girl magic as well.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers
For anyone that believes the Black man is Earth, well, Planeteer Kwame literally had the power to control it all. It was only fitting that iconic actor LeVar Burton voiced the character, which made each lesson feel all the more authentic.
13. CARL CARLSON
Although voiced by someone who wasn’t actually Black for majority of the over 30 years The Simpsons has been on air, Carl added some much-needed color to the otherwise yellow demographic of Springfield.
14. VINCE LaSALLE
Vince was without a doubt the idol for any Black boy growing up in the 90s that faithfully watched Disney’s One Saturday Morning cartoon block on ABC.
15. SPAWN / AL SIMMONS
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn
The distinctive deep voice of Black Hollywood vet Keith David paired perfectly with the dark mood of Spawn. Whether or not you’re a fan of the antihero trope, Spawn added a new melanated face to the mix…regardless of how disfigured it might’ve been.
16. FAT ALBERT
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
For all the negativity he’s been accused of in recent times, Bill Cosby will probably only be positively remembered for the many positive life lessons he delivered through the character of Fat Albert and his trusted crew that made up The Junkyard Gang.
17. STATIC / VIRGIL OVID HAWKINS
Seen to some as an alternative to Spider-Man for the DC Universe, Static stood as a superhero that never shied away from tacking tough issues like gang violence, mental illness and even racism. Doing it all while rocking dreadlocks gave him even more of a bond to the culture.
18. CLEVELAND BROWN
The Cleveland Show
As outlandish and crude as the jokes can get, any representation of the tight bond within a Black family is never truly a bad thing. Also, to be quite honest, we all know a Cleveland!
19. PENNY PROUD
The Proud Family
Penny, along with her trusted group of friends and eclectic family dynamic, made for the perfect example of a pre-teen that embodied the essence of Black cool. We can only hope the upcoming Disney+ reboot series Louder and Prouder continues her effortless glow for another generation to look up to.
From the high-top fade to his cooler-than-ice demeanor, every Black kid wanted to either be like Gerald or have a best friend like him. His example of loyalty and overall suaveness is still unmatched.
21. SUSIE CARMICHAEL
With Susie Carmichael standing as the antithesis of everything that main character Angelica Pickles represented — entitlement, brattiness, privilege, bullying — she became looked at as a sort of role model to the infant protagonists on the iconic cartoon show. Life ended up imitating art, as Susie became and still remains one of the OGs of the term Black girl magic.