Why Y’all Hatin’ on Witch Lezah?
As we reach the midway point of The Looney Tunes Show‘s sophomore season, I’ve noticed the hate rants and complaints about the show have diminished considerably. No doubt this is partly due to how the writers and artists have actually listened to viewer complaints about the show and have adjusted things accordingly: they’ve abandoned Jessica Borutski’s original stylized character designs in favor of a more ‘classic’ look, they’ve switched to brighter colors (Bugs is gray again instead of pale lavender!), the writers have upped the slapstick and the visual gags, there are more callbacks to the original shorts, and in general things have just gotten ‘loonier’. (Of course, we still haven’t seen much of Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote segments are gone and the Merrie Melodies are on the way out with the departure of Ms. Borutski, but no show is perfect.)
However, it’s not all hunky-dory in the Looney Tunes ‘hood; despite the improvements the show has made, there is one element of TLTS that still continues to raise peoples’ ire. Namely, this lady:
This harbinger of evil, this blight upon the community, is Witch Lezah, the fun-house mirror version of Bugs Bunny’s Looney Tunes adversary Witch Hazel, here cast as Bugs and Daffy’s no-nonsense witch neighbor and single mother to little boy inside the body of a 9-foot tall giant orange monster Gossamer, voiced by African-American stage, film and TV comedienne and actress Roz Ryan.
While a secondary character on the show itself, there is a surprising amount of hate and derision aimed at this character. The biggest irate questions asked about the Witch are: why is she called ‘Lezah’ instead of ‘Hazel’? Why does she sound black? and Why isn’t June Foray voicing her, especially when June Foray is on the show voicing Granny? One colleague of mine who’s a member of both The Big Cartoon Database and the place I recently moved out of, Toon Zone, is one of Lezah’s biggest detractors, never passing up an opportunity to cast stones at the character and her voice actress. His favorite smack against the character is to call constantly (and I do mean constantly) compare Witch Lezah to Mammy Two-Shoes, the Buelah-esque black maid featured in the early Tom & Jerry cartoons, referring to Lezah as “The Mammy Two-Shoes Witch” and accusing the character of being “an offensive stereotype of a black woman”. His favorite comment (which he’ll spout at the drop of a hat) is: “I think if they decide to bring Mammy Two Shoes back to Tom and Jerry, Roz Ryan would be the perfect voice actress for her.”
Now, I like and respect this guy; he’s a little candid with his views, but he often offers intelligent observations backed by facts and reason, and he does his research so he knows a lot about the animation industry and the people behind it, so I can respect most of what he has to say, which is why I didn’t preface his comments as a Point and Laugh, however, I couldn’t disagree with him more about Witch Lezah. I’ll save my views on his points for later, right now allow me address the other questions people keep asking about the Witch:
- Why is the Witch called ‘Lezah’ instead of ‘Hazel’?
- Why does she sound black?
- Why isn’t June Foray voicing her, especially when June Foray is on the show voicing Granny?
I’ll answer these in reverse order. First, as to why June Foray isn’t voicing the Witch, well, that’s another elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, but that’s kind of what we do here. Namely, that as of this writing, June Foray is 95 years old. 95. No one wants to face that, but the woman is pushing a century. It’s very possible (and quite likely) that Ms. Foray no longer has the energy and stamina to perform such a lively character anymore, and also WB probably doesn’t want to give Ms. Foray a lot of work to do because it’s not known how much more time she has on this dimensional plane. Note how Granny has been a tad more subdued than her early shorts appearances, and note also how Granny as yet hasn’t had any speaking roles since season 2 started. Regarding why Lezah sounds black, that’s because she’s voiced by an African-American woman, Roz Ryan.
Regular viewers probably recognize Ms. Ryan as the voice of Bubbie the whale on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. She also voiced Thalia, the Muse of Comedy on Disney’s Hercules (1997). She has also voiced Cake on CN’s Adventure Time and Wade’s mom on Kim Possible. Among her live-action appearances have been NBC’s Amen (1986-1991), Barbershop (2005), General Hospital (2012) and The Rickey Smiley Show (2012).
As for the name change, I’m guessing that was implemented because LT purists wouldn’t accept anyone else other than June Foray voicing Witch Hazel (though it’s worth mentioning that in Hazel’s first shorts appearance, Bewitched Bunny, she was voiced by Bea Benederet), so the producers established her as a different character altogether, by simply switching the name around–‘Lezah’ is ‘Hazel’ backwards. (Another question I’ve heard more than once is: is there any connection or relation between Witch Lezah and Witch Hazel? I once read on Wikipedia that in-universe Lezah is supposed to be Hazel’s sister and that Witch Hazel herself was supposed to appear on a Halloween themed episode sometime during season 2. Of course it’s worth mentioning that this was posted on Wikipedia, which anyone and their Aunt Gertrude can edit, and said information was promptly removed shortly thereafter, so my guess is that this was nothing but an unfounded and groundless internet rumor.)
Now, on to my friend’s Mammy-Two Shoes analogy. Yes, Lezah’s voice and mannerisms are indeed based on those of a stereotypical Black American woman, but I don’t see this as an offensive ethnic stereotype so much as the writers intentionally basing the character’s persona around that of the actress who provides her voice. Lezah is more or less an animated version of the characters Ms. Ryan typically portrays on TV and movies. It’s no different from how Donkey from Shrek and Iago from Disney’s Aladdin were modeled after their voice actors, Eddie Murphy and Gilbert Gottfried respectively. Now as an African-American, I’m usually the first to point out when something is racially offensive, and I’m not the least bit offended by Roz Ryan’s Witch Lezah, however I do get kind of miffed at my fellow poster’s constant Mammy Two-Shoes comparisons. Is Lezah a tad stereotypical? Yes, no denying that. But I think calling her a Mammy Two-Shoes throwback is taking it a tad too far. And maybe Ms. Ryan could possibly voice MTS, but I can assure you that a return of Mammy Two-Shoes to the Tom & Jerry-verse is NEVER going to happen. You can file that right alongside of Disney ever releasing Song of the South on DVD in the Never Gonna Happen bin. Now I don’t hate the character of MTS; I can tolerate her appearance in the old T&Js fine, as long as one takes into account when these cartoons were made. African-American women working as domestics for white families were fairly commonplace during the 1930’s through the 1950’s, so such caricatures weren’t considered racially offensive at the time. But a character like MTS would never fly with a contemporary audience today, society has changed far too much for such a character to be socially acceptable in any medium. In fact, the character has recently resurfaced on WB’s Tom & Jerry Tales as the Caucasian Mrs. Two-Shoes, who is clearly the owner of the house and not just a domestic. You’re not going to see Mammy Two-Shoes anywhere ever again, any more than you’re ever going to see Buckwheat on TV again, definitely not the “Otay!” version of Buckwheat, not unless Eddie Murphy decides to start playing him again.
So I say lay off of Witch Lezah, and lay off of the criticism of Roz Ryan voicing the character. Nobody had a problem with Ms. Ryan voicing a short fat Muse or a blue whale, so why take issue with her voicing a green witch?