Cowboy Bebop's Original Series Jet Black Voice Actor Shares Thoughts On His Character's Race

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is finally out, and its arrival has reignited fans’ passion for the original series as well as some spirited debate. Mustafa Shakir’s role as Jet Black is one to be celebrated, as out of all the characters adapted, he feels like one pulled straight from the anime. Of course, his casting brought about much discussion, as fans went back and forth on the race of the original character, voiced by Beau Billingslea, who has shared his thoughts on Jet Black's race. 

The debate happened with the original Cowboy Bebop, as some fans never could tell if Jet Black was white or Black. In fact, some could’ve assumed the latter, which made it confusing when producers for the Netflix series called the casting a “change” from the original character. I got a chance to speak to Jet Black voice actor Beau Billingslea and the rest of the Cowboy Bebop anime voice cast on behalf of Funimation, and asked Billingslea (who is Black) if he ever considered the character’s race or was told the character was portrayed one way or another.

No, I just went with it. He was gray. I mean, Jet is drawn gray, basically, in the show, and I didn’t really focus on that. Especially, you know, back when my career started there were very [few] if any persons of color that were in anime, right? The characters I voiced were not Black. Ouji in Legend of Black Heaven, Raikage in Naruto, you know, they weren’t black. So it really wasn’t an issue for me, which was really cool, obviously. I was hired in by Kevin Seymour and Utaka, and I just went about my business doing my work.

Beau Billingslea pointed out that voicing an anime character whose race wasn’t his own wasn’t uncommon for him, so it wasn’t something he thought about. Jet Black was, as he said, gray in tone, and that’s all he ever really thought about while doing Cowboy Bebop

With all that said, Beau Billingslea did note he found it interesting that Mustafa Shakir got the role of Jet Black for the Netflix series. At the same time, he reiterated that he didn’t have much to share on Jet’s race because it just wasn’t a thing he thought of at the time.

It’s interesting that in the live-action he’s a person of color and you know I’m happy for that, but I had no thoughts about that when I was voicing Jet. Which is a really cool thing to think that the state of the business, at that time, race wasn’t an issue.

So, for anyone hoping that the secret answer to this long-running Cowboy Bebop debate came out behind the scenes, it wasn’t even something on Beau Billingslea’s radar back then. I guess for fans, the debate may continue in regards to Jet Black, though after hearing Billingslea’s thoughts, I’m inclined to ask, does it really matter

The original Cowboy Bebop is available to stream on Funimation’s streaming service right now. Fans can check it out there, and of course, binge the live-action series over at Netflix.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.