Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate are helping lead the charge of making sure that when it comes to animated roles, Black or mixed race characters should be voiced by Black or mixed race actresses. Kristen has voiced the mixed race character of “Molly” on Apple TV+’s animated musical comedy Central Park, which just finished it’s first season. Should the streaming service order up a season two, Kristen will still be a part of the show, but feels an actress should match the character as she’s been drawn for audience. The 39-year-old said in a June 24 Instagram post that the voice of Molly should go to “someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal.”
In a caption next to a statement from Central Park‘s producers Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, Nora Smith, Halstead Sullivan and Sanjay Shah about the voicing change, Kristen wrote, “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.”
She added, “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.”
The Central Park production team’s statement — which Josh posted to his IG page — explained, “Kristen Bell is an extraordinarily talented actress who joined the cast of Central Park from nearly the first day of the show’s development — before there was even a character for her to play — and she has since delivered a funny, heartfelt, and beautiful performance.”
It continued, “But after reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognizes 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.”
The team added that, “Kristen will continue to be a part of the heart of the show in a new role but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly. We profoundly regret that we might have contributed to anyone’s feeling of exclusion or erasure.” Kristen and Josh’s animated voicing friendship goes back to their vocal collaboration on Disney’s Frozen franchise.
Kristen wasn’t the only White actress to come to the same conclusion. Jenny, 38, is leaving her role voicing mixed-race “Missy” on Netflix’s 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,” Jenny wrote in a June 24 Instagram. statement. “But ‘Missy’ is also Black and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”
— nick kroll (@nickkroll) June 24, 2020
Series creator Nick Kroll added in a tweet that, “We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a white actor to voice a biracial character.” He and the creative/producing team of Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett added that, “We are proud of the representation Missy has offered cerebral, sensitive women of color, and we plan to continue that representation and further grow Missy’s character as we cast a new Black actor to play her.” The show has wrapped its fourth season, so a new actress would take over as Missy when season five begins production.