Mere hours after news broke that Jenny Slate was stepping down as Missy, the biracial character she voiced for four seasons (one still forthcoming) of Big Mouth, similar news broke about another animated show: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kristen Bell will stop voicing Molly, who is also biracial, on Central Park, the new show co-created by Bob’s Burger’s Loren Bouchard.
The decision according to THR, some time in the offing. In a statement, Bouchard and his fellow creative team members, Josh Gad, Nora Smith, Halsted Sullivan and Sanjay Shah, wrote, “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.” They 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. 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.”
Bell gave her blessing to the re-casting, taking to Instagram to write the following:
“This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on <em>Central Park</em> 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 <em>Central Park</em> 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.”
Even before the Black Lives Matter protests, which were born out of anger over the killing of George Floyd, prompted serious discussions about racial issues in America, there had been major pushback about casting white performers in non-white roles in animation. Hank Azaria stepped down from his lengthy gig, voicing Apu on The Simpsons. And then there’s the character of Diane Nguyen on BoJack Horseman, a Vietnamese character voiced by the white Alison Brie, which prompted creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg to admit he may have made a mistake, saying his intention was 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.”