Kristen Bell will no longer voice the mixed-race character Molly Tillerman on the Apple TV+ animated series Central Park. Bell said playing the role in the first place showed a "lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege," and she could no longer play the character. The decision came after comedian Jenny Slate dropped out of Netflix's Big Mouth because "Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people."
On Wednesday, Bell shared a statement from the Central Park producers on Instagram, adding that it was time to "acknowledge our acts of complicity," and hers was voicing Molly. "Casting a mixed-race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed-race and Black American experience," Bell wrote, adding that her casting "was wrong" and the Central Park team is vowing to "make it right." Bell said she will still work on the show by voicing a different character, but she is "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."
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Central Park was created by Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith and Josh Gad and debuted on May 29. The show centers on a family living in Central Park and their efforts to stop a greedy land developer. Molly Tillerman is the daughter of Owen and Paige Tillerman, a mixed-race couple voiced by Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. Tituss Burgess voices Molly's brother Cole. Daveed Diggs and Stanley Tucci also star, both voicing female characters.
During the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January, Bouchard defended the casting decisions, reports Deadline. When it came to casting Diggs and Tucci as female characters, Bouchard said the team "knew ir was going to be so fun doing it," adding that he could not resist casting Tucci as a woman named Bitsy. Bell "needed to be Molly, she was always going to honor that character," he said. "We couldn’t make Molly white or Kristen mixed race, so we had to go forward."
Earlier Wednesday, Slate announced she could not voice Missy on Netflix's Big Mouth after doing so for four seasons. Like Molly, Missy is also a biracial character. Slate first thought she could play the role because the character's mother is Jewish and White, like herself, but she realized this was "flawed" reasoning. "I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing 'Missy,' I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people," Slate wrote on Instagram.
Both roles will be recast, although new actors have not been announced yet. One fan responded to Bell's statement on Twitter, asking why the character would be recast with a Black actress instead of a mixed-race actress. "Either can contribute to telling Molly's story better than I can," Bell replied.