White actresses step down from voicing Black cartoon roles

Actresses who've voiced Black or biracial characters now believe they were wrong to do so

Jenny Slate (l) and Kristen Bell (r) Getty Images

This week, actress Jenny Slate has announced that she’s stepping down from voicing the character of Missy on the hit Netflix animated series Big Mouth due to the fact that she is white and the character is biracial and Black-presenting.

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“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,” Slate wrote on Instagram. But ‘Missy’ is also Black and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”

She then went on to acknowledge that by portraying Missy she was “engaging in an act of erasure of Black people” and that, while she “can’t change the past,” it was her duty to engage in “meaningful anti-racist action.”

“Ending my portrayal of Missy is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions,” she continued, signing off with, “I am so very sorry. Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter.”

 

In response, Big Mouth co-creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett posted a statement of their own on social media supporting Slate’s decision.

“We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a white actor to voice a biracial character,” they wrote. “We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we’re working hard to do better moving forward.”

They added that they “are proud of the representation Missy has offered cerebral, sensitive women of color, and we plan to continue that representation.”

Immediately following Slate’s announcement, actress Kristen Bell announced that she was also stepping down from portraying Molly Tillerman (a mixed-race character) in the new Apple TV+ series, Central Park as well.

Bell posted a statement on Twitter explaining, “This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here’s one of mine. Playing Molly in Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed-race character w/a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed-race & Black American experience.”

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Back in January, show creator Loren Bouchard defended the choice not to cast a Black actor in the role during a panel, explaining, “Kristen needed to be Molly; we couldn’t not make her Molly. But then we couldn’t make Molly white and we couldn’t make Kristen mixed-race so we just had to go forward.”

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But Tuesday she acknowledged that her previous stance may have been flawed, writing on Twitter, “My deepest apology for getting this decision wrong originally, and for fumbling through a non-explanation in the press earlier this year. I truly appreciate everyone who reached out to me here to voice concern, anger, frustration—all of it. I’m listening.”

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