Actresses Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate separately announced Wednesday that they will no longer be voicing biracial cartoon characters, acknowledging that white privilege has allowed them to take on such roles.
Slate, who plays Missy on Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” released a statement on Instagram on Wednesday saying she would be stepping down from the role to make room for a black actress who could better play the character. The actress said she initially justified her decision to play Missy because the character’s mother was white and Jewish like her.
“But ‘Missy’ is also black, and black characters in an animated series should be played by black people,” Slate said. “I recognize how flawed my original reasoning is, that there existed as an example of white privilege and unfair allowances in a societal white supremacist system, and that by playing ‘Missy’ I was indulging in to an act of erasing Black people. “
Slate has pledged to continue to engage in action against racism. “Most importantly, for everyone I’ve hurt, I’m so sorry,” Slate said. “Black lives matter.”
Hours later, Bell released a similar statement from the show’s creators regarding her character Molly on Apple TV Plus’s “Central Park.” Bell said in a statement on Twitter that expressing 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 on the show in a new role, but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly,” the statement said. “We deeply regret having been able to contribute to the feeling of exclusion or erasure of anyone.”
The announcement of two top actresses comes amid rekindled conversations about the country’s systemic racial inequity following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Hollywood has long been criticized for whiten roles originally written to be characters of color, including the role of Scarlett Johansson in the 2017 film adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell.”“
Bell and Slate received praise for what many called the right move, although some felt they should never have taken on the roles in the first place.
Twitter users noted that their examples show how white actors can use privilege to help uplift 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 give up the role of Black she was going to voice on this new show is nice,” a user wrote. “It’s so easy for Whites to set a precedent for other Whites.”