It doesn’t take an Emma Stone-in-Aloha to know that white actors should never play a character outside of their own race. But it’s a different situation when it comes to animated voice work, where it’s not uncommon for a white actor to voice a non-white character, Like a white guy currently provides the voices for two Black characters and a Hispanic woman in the Family Guy universe. And recently, Hank Azaria announced he will no longer voice Apu on The Simpsons due to Apu being a stereotype. Both Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell voice Black characters on animated TV shows. And even though their characters aren’t at all problematic like Apu, both Jenny and Kristen have also decided to step away from those characters.
Jenny has voiced the character of Missy Foreman-Greenwald on Netflix’s Big Mouth for three seasons. Missy’s mother is Jewish and her father is Black (played by Chelsea Peretti and Jordan Peele, respectively). Jenny herself is Jewish, and she explained on Instagram that that’s why she agreed to voice the character, despite knowing it wasn’t totally right. But she realizes now that she ignored the fact that Missy is half-Black, and that a Black actress should be given that role instead. Which makes sense, considering there’s only like, three Black characters on Big Mouth, and one of them is the ghost of Duke Ellington (and he’s also voiced by Jordan Peele). Missy isn’t the only Jewish character on the show, but she is the only one of the main five characters whose identity is based around being mixed.
Nick Kroll, one of the creators of Big Mouth, addressed the situation, apologizing for casting a white woman as a Black character in the first place, and that they will be working to find a Black actress to voice Missy from here on out.
Deadline says that the fourth season of Big Mouth has already been recorded and will premiere on Netflix this fall. They won’t re-record any of the dialogue for the fourth season, but will recast for the fifth and sixth seasons (which Netflix has already locked in).
Kristen Bell also chimed in with her own announcement. Kristen joined the cast of the Apple TV+ series Central Park, currently in its first season, where she plays Molly Tillerman, also a mixed girl who has a Black dad and a white mom. Kristen says her choice to play a Black character shows a “lack of awareness of [her] pervasive privilege.” She also included a note from the Central Park production team, which explains that they all came to this decision together. It’s important to note that Molly’s Black dad is voiced by Leslie Odom Jr., and her brother is voiced by Tituss Burgess. So, they’ll only have to recast one of the kids.
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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.
Only a couple of episodes of Central Park have been released so far. And generally, Jenny and Kristen’s news has been well received. But there are people who have shouted, “BUT WHAT ABOUT BLACK ACTORS WHO VOICE WHITE PEOPLE?” The New York Post reports that some people on Twitter started pointing out that James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader in three Star Wars films.
That argument doesn’t stand. Because the whole point here is that white actors really shouldn’t be swooping in and stealing gigs from Black actors, who already have a tough enough time wiggling their foot into Hollywood’s doorframe. But also because that wasn’t even Darth Vader’s real voice. It was the space mask. George Lucas needed a voice that was low and menacing, but also kind of mechanical. And let’s face it, non-human mechanical sounds were pretty bad back in the late 70s and early 80s. It would be a whole different movie if Darth Vader sounded like a Chubble.