Wednesday's announcement that Jenny Slate would be stepping down as the voice actor for the role of Missy in Netflix's Big Mouth to make room for a Black actor has sparked a fierce discussion on social media about casting in animation. The actress, who is white and who has portrayed Missy since the series’ debut in 2017, explained her departure in an open letter shared on Instagram, writing that “Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people."
In her post, Slate acknowledged that her initial reasoning for portraying the character, who is biracial, was "flawed" and said that "it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy." She said that her portrayal of Missy was an example of her "engaging in an act of erasure of Black people" and that stepping away from the role "is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions." Slate's decision was supposed by Big Mouth creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, who promised in a joint statement to recast the role with a Black actor.
Slate's decision has shed light on a much larger issue within voice acting – the tendency to cast actors to voice characters of a different race. Although similar discussions have occurred in recent years, they gained renewed momentum amid calls for racial equality, and social media wasn’t quick to let the discussion die down following Slate’s announcement. While some have applauded Slate and the series’ decision, stating hopes that other series will follow suit, others have cast doubt that doing so is necessary given, citing other examples of animated characters voiced by actors of a different race. Keep scrolling to see what social media is saying.
It's VOICE acting! Should only a DOG voice Scooby Doo!?! Should only a WABBIT voice Bugs Bunny!?? This virtue signalling nonsense just gets dumber everyday. Sheeit, Bart Simpson has been voiced by a woman for 30 years! Black people don't need these empty gestures. https://t.co/rsMXXfgYXP— ThaGospel (@gospel_tha) June 24, 2020
I don’t watch the show but they had Jenny Slate voice a Black character? No one thought that was weird? pic.twitter.com/YA23CWusvp— Brittny Pierre (@sleep2dream) June 24, 2020
Its a fuxking cartoon are people going to cry that naruto and 78929 other anime and cartoon characters that are male are voiced by females????Now everything is offensive?— Vivian λ (@envyxd) June 25, 2020
James earl jones played darth vader a white guy. No one thought it was weird. Uncle phil voice shredder a japanese character no one found it weird? Lmao. Voice actors bring a voice to a character not a race.— cloudwalker (@cloudwalker08) June 25, 2020
This is a really complicated subsection of a larger casting issue in animation, and while I believe Jenny Slate should be in everything I also think she's made the right call here. https://t.co/sfJfXolTPq— Norm Wilner (@normwilner) June 24, 2020
When it comes to voices, all that matters is if the actor can capture the essence of the character. It literally does not matter what your skin color is, as it's not something people are going to see.— Russian Bot #2241 (@TreyEnma) June 25, 2020
The voice of Bart Simpson is a woman. Why can’t a man be found to fill this role? It’s absurd to think the same race and/or gender has to play the character they portray. If they are good enough then it does not matter what gender, race or religion they are.— Sam Hartles (@Jammie_Hartles) June 25, 2020
It’s not that we need the color to match, it’s that there are fewer jobs for black people in acting and these roles could have been opportunities for black ppl but they were filled with white ppl instead— ANTI ANTI-ANTIFA™️🆕 (@dmorelli9) June 25, 2020
No. James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader, Mark Hamill voiced Fire Lord Ozai, the list goes on. Women voice young male characters all the time, like Veronica Taylor voices Ash Ketchum, a Japanese kid. No one has a problem.— Mathisn’t My Best Subject (@Afr0St0rm) June 25, 2020
I disagree- voice actors come from all walks of life, some are super taliented people to say they can only play their race would limit one area that actually has Diversity in the industry. They need more black characters, to hire more black actors yes but not #Segregation pic.twitter.com/HPRyIjNdua— A lass in wanderland (@lass_in) June 25, 2020
I respect her decision, and this will be good for the black actress who takes the role, but I don't see much of an issue with voice acting. If a director is looking for a particular voice and likes what you have, I think it's fair. Look at Samurai Jack, Phil Lamar is amazing.— Marco Trasviña (@marco_trasvina) June 24, 2020
However I do understand that in today's society there are many struggling minority actors trying to get a good role, which is sometimes taken by a white actor. I'm struggling to get VO work as well. So I definitely understand where people are coming from.— Marco Trasviña (@marco_trasvina) June 25, 2020
That’s not even the problem tho. The problem is black and poc voice actors not getting the same chances as their white counterparts. Not one race voicing another.— RahilH (@RahilSKG) June 25, 2020
The point of voice acting is to provide a fitting voice to a character, the race of the VA literally doesn't matter. I don't get this obsession with separating roles to race only.— Ghost, Horny for Monster Girls (@PendingGhost) June 25, 2020