Well it has certainly been quite the day for white actresses who voice Black characters on animated series, of which there are surprisingly more than one. Earlier on Wednesday, June 24, white comedian Jenny Slate took to Instagram to announce that she would no longer provide the voice for Missy, a Black character, on Netflix’s animated comedy series Big Mouth because “Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.” Hours (and most likely hundreds of frantic texts) later, the creative team behind Apple TV+’s Central Park announced that white actress Kristen Bell would no longer provide the voice for Molly, a Black character on the animated comedy series. Two animated Black characters named Molly and Missy voiced by white actresses in 2020? Shocking cinematic parallels there, to be sure. The statement from Central Park creators Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, Nora Smith, Halsted Sullivan and Sanjay Shah reads as follows:
“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.”
While Central Park has committed to reversing this casting decision, members of the creative team defended the decision to cast Bell as a Black character as recently as January of this year. At a TCA panel in January 2020, creator Loren Bouchard said that “Kristen needed to be Molly, like we couldn’t not make her Molly. But then we couldn’t make Molly white and we couldn’t make Kristen mixed race, so we just had to go forward.” By “go forward” did Bouchard mean not address the issue until a similar situation befell another animated series and the whole thing became optically too big to ignore? Because that’s what it looks like. Online campaigns have already begun popping up to suggest Black actresses to replace both Slate and Bell. Black female-identifying comedic actresses start practicing your character voice because your time is now.