Sometimes you hear a bit of news and think, “Wait, why was this ever a thing in the first place?” That’s certainly the case with the recent news that Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell will both step down from roles on their respective animated series, Big Mouth and Central Park. The actresses each portrayed Black characters on the programs—roles that will now be recast with Black voice actors.
The actresses announced their decisions on Instagram. Slate acknowledged how the decision to play her Big Mouth character, Missy, was an “example of white privilege.”
Bell shared a statement from the Central Park producers and noted that her decision to play a biracial character on the program “shows a lack of awareness in my pervasive privilege.”
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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.
These decisions bring up important discussions about what we’ve let slide in animation for far too long. Recently, Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg tweeted a thread about his misguided decision to cast Vietnamese-American character Diane Nguyen with a white actress (Alison Brie). And, after decades of voicing the Indian-American character Apu on The Simpsons, white actor Hank Azaria recently stepped away from the show.
It’s good that we’re finally having these conversations, and it’s good that the big names behind these animated shows—like Josh Gad, producer of Central Park, and Nick Kroll, producer of Big Mouth—are speaking out about their casting mistakes. But it’s also worth noting that Slate and Bell accepted these parts very recently and profited off of them before they realized the issue at hand.
This is not something that should happen. And hopefully it’s a wake up call. Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record for shepherding diverse voices, or affording Black people and other POC the same opportunities it does white people. We hope that this decision sends a ripple, and prevents this sort of thing from happening again.
But we still have to ask, “Why did this happen in the first place?”
Featured Image: Netflix