White actors voicing animated characters of colour has been an issue for as long as animation has existed. It can lead to racist and stereotypical interpretations and just generally unacceptable appropriation. It’s an overdue realisation that (finally) led The Simpsons to rethink the character of Apu. This week, at least two other popular animated shows are making changes.
First up, Nick Kroll, one of the co-creators of Netflix’s Big Mouth, posted the following on Twitter, vowing to recast the biracial character of Missy, currently voiced by Jenny Slate, with a Black actor.
— nick kroll (@nickkroll) June 24, 2020
“After thoughtful discussion with us and our Black collaborators, Jenny Slate has decided, and we wholeheartedly agree, that Missy on Big Mouth should be voiced by a Black actor. We sincerely apologise for and regret out original decision to cast a white actor to voice a biracial character,” read a joint statement by Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett. “We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we’re working hard to do better moving forward.”
Slate also posted about the decision on her Instagram saying in part, “At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play Missy because her mum is Jewish and white — as am I. But missy is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people. I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing Missy, I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people.”
On the heels of that announcement, host and producer Jeremy Wein retweeted Kroll’s statement to actor Josh Gad. Gad is a co-creator — along with Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith — of the animated musical comedy Central Park, airing on Apple TV+. Wein noted the Central Park team should have a “similar conversation” in regards to Molly, a biracial character voiced by Kristen Bell on the show. (Leslie Odom Jr. and Kathryn Han voice Molly’s parents while Tituss Burgess plays her brother Cole.) Gad replied, “two steps ahead of you.”
This led to this a general statement posted by Bell and Gad. “After reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognises that the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right — to cast a Black or mixed race actress and give Molly a voice that resonates with all of the nuance and experiences of the character as we’ve drawn her,” it read. “Kristen will continue to be a part of the show in a new role but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly.” No word on if the new actor will be tasked with replacing Bell’s voice in episodes that already aired.
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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.
Both of these changes come on the back of Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s thread on Tuesday, where he was once again asked about casting Alison Brie as the Vietnamese American character Diane Nguyen in his Netflix series. Bob-Waksberg talked about how he was, at first, scared to talk about that topic but has learned more and more over the years about it, finally discussing the issue in several interviews, all of which are linked in the thread.
That show ended earlier this year, so of course, he can’t recast at this point, but he knows it was a mistake.
This is something I am happy to talk about! I can tense up when asked about my mistakes (because I'm worried I'll say the wrong thing) but it's good for me to reflect on them and I hope others seeing me do so will help them not make the same mistakes! THREAD (with links!): https://t.co/8mLehLoAHV
— Raphael Bob-Waksberg (@RaphaelBW) June 24, 2020
And while these simple actions may seem trivial to some, they’re important examples of white Americans learning about racial inequality, acknowledging their mistakes, and trying to make changes for the better — even if it’s all wildly overdue.
The first season of Central Park is now airing on Apple TV+, though there’s no news yet if it’s been renewed for a second season (recasting the show sure makes it sound like it will, though.) Big Mouth debuted its third season last year and soon was renewed for three more.