Episode 11: Represent, Represent!

In our eleventh episode we discuss the issue of representation in media and culture. The case in point for our conversation is the Danish dubbing of the Disney Pixar film Soul, released in 2020. The main character in Soul is Joe Gardner, a black jazz musician and music teacher from Brooklyn, NY. As is the standard for animated films from Disney, the film has been dubbed in several other languages. While the original version of Soul stars Jamie Foxx in the lead role, in Denmark, the voice actor cast as Joe Gardner for the Danish dubbing is Nikolaj Lie Kaas, one of the most well known Danish actors of his generation. Kaas is also white.

There has been some controversy regarding the casting of Lie Kaas to voice the role of a Black character, and rightfully so. As we discuss on this episode of Dialectic Peoples, representation matters. Why should the first black main character of a Pixar film be voiced by a white actor? Why not give the opportunity to represent a black voice to a black actor, regardless of language? Are performers of color in Denmark or elsewhere in Europe simply not good enough? Not famous enough? Not available?

The question of their prestige or familiarity with audiences is not a matter talent or skill, but rather of opportunity.

While one unfamiliar with Denmark might think that it’s a question of availability, the assumption that there aren’t any qualified actors of color to voice the roles of characters of color in European languages is flatly wrong. Denmark, as well as other nations in the EU have plenty of talented performers of color. The question of their prestige or familiarity with audiences is not a matter talent or skill, but rather of opportunity. The casting agencies responsible for putting white actors to work dubbing the voices of black characters could have offered an opportunity to an actor of color – there were plenty available, if the not proven by the diversity (although minimal) in the casting of minor roles for the Danish dubbing of the film. Dialectic Peoples very own Kuku Agami and his older brother Al Agami both played minor roles in the Danish dub.

Ultimately, while Kaas did give a capable performance, his casting in the role of a Black character is evidence of a lack of representation in the entertainment industry in Denmark. In such a rare instance, where a black character is front and center in an animated feature film from none other than Disney, the chance for an actor of color to have a leading role could have been a star-making performance. Unfortunately that opportunity was missed. However, there is an opportunity to at least open the conversation about representation in the Danish context, and we are not letting it go to waste.

Listen to Episode 11: Represent, Represent! to hear the full discussion. Stick around for our second Q&A session, where we also discuss questions from our audience on the topic.

Dialectic Peoples is available on all major podcast platforms. Listen here.