Actresses Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate separately announced on Wednesday that they would no longer be voicing biracial cartoon characters, acknowledging that white privilege had allowed them to take on such roles.
Slate, who voices Missy on Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” released a statement on Instagram early Wednesday that she would leave the role to make room for a black actress who can better portray the character. The actress said she originally justified her decision to play Missy because the character’s mother is white and Jewish like her.
“But ‘Missy’ is also black, and black characters in an animated show should be played by black people,” Slate said. “I acknowledge that my original reasoning is flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unfair rights made within a system of social white supremacy, and that when I played ‘Missy’, I was participating in an act of erasing Black people.”
Slate promised to continue participating in actions against racism. “Most importantly, though, anyone who’s hurt is very sorry,” Slate said. “Black Lives Matter”.
Hours later, Bell released a similar statement from the creators of shows about her character Molly on Apple TV Plus’s “Central Park.” Bell said in the Twitter statement that expressing Molly, who is a mixed race, was an act of complicity that showed a “lack of awareness of my widespread privilege.”
“Kristen will continue to be part of 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 contributed to the feeling of exclusion or erasure of anyone.”
The announcement of two renowned actresses comes amid rekindled talks about the country’s systemic racial inequity following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Hollywood has long been criticized for the bleach 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 were greeted with praise for what many called the right decision, even if some felt they should never have taken the roles in the first place.
Twitter users noted that his examples show how white actors can use privilege to help elevate black actors and other marginalized groups.
“It is annoying that non-black actors were considered by Missy and Jenny Slate voiced it for so long, but seeing Kristen Bell leave the black role she was going to express on that new show is nice,” wrote one user. “It is very easy for whites to create a precedent for other whites.”