The year 2020 is full of unexpected plot twists, one of which has been Hollywood taking accountability and attempting to actually right the wrongs of the past—after being thoroughly called out on social media about it, that is.
This time, we’re honing in on Black creators in animation, specifically those who work in voiceover (V.O.) acting. In back-to-back solidarity news, both Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell have announced they are stepping down from their respective animated roles in order for Black actors to actually have the opportunity to play themselves on-screen.
According to Variety, Slate originally portrayed Missy (who happens to be biracial) in the popular Netflix series, Big Mouth.
“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 via Instagram on Tuesday. But ‘Missy’ is also Black and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”
“We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a white actor to voice a biracial character,” Big Mouth co-creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett wrote in a statement posted to Twitter, vowing to cast a Black actor during the replacement process.
Quickly following Slate’s news, Bell announced that she was stepping down from portraying Molly Tillerman (a mixed-race character) in the new Apple TV+ series, Central Park. Bell also posted a statement on Twitter noting, “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.”
Show creator Loren Bouchard previously addressed the choice not to cast a Black actor in the role in a panel held in January. “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,” Bouchard had said.
However, cutting to the present day, Bouchard has admitted her wrongdoing, posting a statement on Twitter on Tuesday.
“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,” Bouchard tweeted.
Both IndieWire and Shadow & Act have written pieces outlining occurrences where Black characters or characters of color were voiced by white actors, which further highlighted the disparity between white creators and Black creators obtaining work in animation.
Though the gesture is certainly acknowledged and appreciated, it also puts a spotlight on the fact that there was no excuse to exclude suitable Black V.O. actors in the first place.
As Rebecca Ford, Senior Awards Editor at The Hollywood Reporter tweeted, “The sudden cleaning up of all the subtle ways Hollywood was failing at inclusion is so fascinating—and also proof that these fixes could have happened a long time ago.”
In typical Black Twitter fashion, some fans already had potential replacements in mind, such as Reagan Gomez and Ari Lennox.
Whether it goes to an established actor or we get to witness a unique opportunity provided to an up-and-comer, we’re looking forward to the announcement!