Jenny Slate And Kristen Bell Will Stop Voicing Black Characters On ‘Big Mouth’ And ‘Central Park’
Two actors on high-profile animated series have resigned in the space of a few hours, for the same reason: they were white women playing black characters. From now, Jenny Slate will no longer voice Missy on Netflix’s Big Mouth, and Kristen Bell will no longer voice Molly on Apple TV+’s Central Park.
Slate, who had voiced Missy since Big Mouth debuted in 2017, took to Instagram to announce the decision — which was hers — and apologize. “At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I,” she wrote. “But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”
The show’s creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Golberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett issued a statement of their own, in which they vowed to “recast a new black actor.” They wrote: “We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a white actor to play a biracial character.”
Big Mouth has been renewed for another three seasons; it’s understood that Slate’s voice will still be featured in the upcoming season, which has wrapped.
Meanwhile, on her Instagram account, Bell posted a statement written in the third person and shared by other members of the show’s team. It noted that Bell had joined the show “before there was even a character for her to play,” but added that she would be replaced by “a Black or mixed race actress.” Bell supports the decision, which had been in the works for some time, sources told The Hollywood Reporter.
Bell added a personal comment in the caption, which began: “This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege.” She voiced Molly in the show’s first and only season so far, which debuted on Apple’s new streamer last month.
These announcements come amid renewed discussions about inclusion in the animation industry, part of a broader debate about racial justice in society that has been fueled by the killing of George Floyd. Slate and Bell are famous, their shows are widely watched, and their resignations will put pressure on other white voice actors voicing non-white characters.
This issue isn’t new in animation, and resignations have happened before. A recent example is Hank Azaria’s decision to stop voicing Apu on The Simpsons — this particular case was inflamed by accusations that the character promoted negative stereotypes about South Asians.
The full statements by Slate, the creators of Big Mouth, and Bell are republished below:
— nick kroll (@nickkroll) June 24, 2020
View this post on Instagram
This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience. It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion.