'Big Mouth,' 'Central Park' to Recast Jenny Slate, Kristen Bell With Black Actors for Biracial Characters

Netflix's animated series Big Mouth will recast the role of Missy — at the request of the actor who has voiced her thus far, Jenny Slate. Apple will also recast a biracial character, currently voiced by Kristen Bell, in its animated show Central Park

Slate and Big Mouth's creators said in social media posts Wednesday that they will cast a Black actor to voice the middle schooler in the future. The show has aired three seasons and is renewed through season six. The move comes as the industry continues to reckon with its record of inclusivity and representation amid nationwide anti-racist protests.  

"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 on Instagram. "But Missy is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people." (See her full statement below.)

Slate asked the show's producers for the change, and they agreed. In a statement on Twitter, creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett wrote, "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." 

Central Park, meanwhile, will recast Bell's role of Molly, with her support. The decision has been in the works for some time, sources told The Hollywood Reporter.

"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," said the show's creative team of Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, Nora Smith, Halsted Sullivan and Sanjay Shah in a statement. "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. 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."

Said Bell in an Instagram post, "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."

The issue of white actors voicing characters of color in animated series is not new. Hank Azaria voiced the character of Apu, an Indian immigrant, for decades before saying in January he would stop. (The show had resisted change for several years, even after comedian Hari Kondabolu made a documentary about it called The Problem With Apu.) 

Alison Brie voiced the Vietnamese American character Diane Nguyen on another Netflix show, BoJack Horseman. That show's creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, wrote on Twitter about his regrets over the decision, saying he intended to "write AWAY from stereotypes and create an Asian American character who wasn't defined solely by her race. But I went too far in the other direction."

On Friday, Brie posted an apology on Instagram for voicing the character, writing "I now understand that people of color, should always voice people of color. We missed a great opportunity to represent the Vietnamese-American community accurately and respectfully, and for that I am truly sorry." 

In January, Central Park creator Bouchard told reporters that "Kristen needed to voice Molly — we couldn't not make her Molly, and then we couldn't make Molly white and couldn't make Kristen mixed-race. Then you arrive there and keep doing it as best you can to turn around and give someone an opportunity who wasn't getting it. A commitment to diversity isn't some odd job, it's a commitment to making it better."

Production on season four of Big Mouth has wrapped, sources tell THR. Slate voiced Missy for those episodes, which will air in the fall. The recasting will take effect for the fifth season.  

The full statements from Slate, the Big Mouth creators, and the Central Park team are below.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jenny Slate (@jennyslate) on

From the Central Park team:

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. 

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. 
 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.  

Black people and people of color have worked and will continue to work on Central Park but we can do better. We’re committed to creating opportunities for people of color and Black people in all roles, on all our projects — behind the mic, in the writers room, in production, and in post-production. Animation will be stronger for having as many voices, experiences, and perspectives as we can possibly bring into the industry. Our shop and our show will be better for respecting the nuances and complexity around the issue of representation and trying to get it right.

June 24, 3:45 p.m. Updated with Central Park recasting Kristen Bell's role.