Actresses Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate separately announced on Wednesday that they would no longer be voicing biracial cartoon characters, acknowledging white privilege had allowed them to take such roles.
Slate, who voices Missy in Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” posted a statement to Instagram early Wednesday that said she would be leaving the role to make space for a Black actress who can better portray the character. The actress said she originally justified her decision to play Missy because the character’s mother is white and Jewish like her.
“But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people,” Slate said. “I acknowledge how my original reasoning is 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.”
Slate vowed to continue engaging in anti-racism action. “Most importantly, though, to anyone that I’ve hurt, I am so very sorry,” Slate said. “Black Lives Matter.”
Hours later, Bell released a similar statement from show creators regarding her character Molly on Apple TV Plus’ “Central Park.” Bell said in the statement on Twitter that voicing Molly, who is mixed race, was an act of complicity that showed a “lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege.”
“Kristen will continue to be part of the show in a new role but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly,” the statement said. “We profoundly regret that we may have contributed to anyone’s feeling of exclusion or erasure.”
This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Heres 1 of mine. Playing the 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. pic.twitter.com/8AL8m4K7Uk
— Kristen Bell (@KristenBell) June 25, 2020
The announcement from two big-name actresses comes amid reignited conversations about the country’s systemic racial inequity following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Hollywood has long been criticized for whitewashing roles originally written to be characters of color, including Scarlett Johansson’s role in the 2017 film adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell.”
Bell and Slate were met with praise for what many called the right decision, even if some felt they never should have taken the roles in the first place.
Twitter users noted that their examples show how white actors can use privilege to help elevate Black actors and other marginalized groups.
“It's annoying that non-Black actors were considered for Missy and Jenny Slate voiced her for so long, but seeing Kristen Bell drop out of the Black role she was going to voice on that new show is nice,” one user wrote. “It's so easy for white people to create a precedent for other white people.”