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Jenny Slate Leaves 'Big Mouth': Does Race Matter in Voice Acting?

Maria Dorado

Posted on June 26, 2020 09:37

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Jenny Slate quits her role as Missy on the animated TV series 'Big Mouth' because of her belief that in voicing a biracial character she is contributing to erasing Black people. This raises the questions of why white actors are being hired for these roles and why it's wrong, in addition to what we can do to ensure more representation.

While posts discussing Black Lives Matter and advocating for more representation for Black people in the media and the workplace are still visible online, there has been a noticeable decline in posts over the last week or so as news regarding protests and the George Floyd case — which is one of many cases regarding police brutality — diminish. As a result, I feel compelled to talk about the controversy surrounding whether voice actors should be the same race as their character in an effort to contribute to continuously thinking about how we can be better allies and thinking about the different ways Black people are underrepresented.

This debate on voice actors emerged earlier this week as a result of Jenny Slate — a white actress — stepping back from her role as Missy — a biracial character — in the animated series "Big Mouth." As Slate mentioned in the announcement she posted on Instagram on Wednesday, her reason for leaving the show dealt with the fact that she was contributing to erasing Black people through her role and unknowingly partaking in racist behavior. 

White actors and actresses voicing people of color is nothing new, but that doesn't mean it's something we shouldn't begin acknowledging and changing to give better representation. For the most part, I don't think the more modern shows are knowingly hiring white people for these roles to be malicious, but it may be something they're unconsciously doing because of the culture around us that we're enabling by not using our voices to vocalize why it's wrong and needs this change. Many may not find an issue with having white actors voicing Black characters because it's a cartoon, but it's another way of telling someone you couldn't be bothered to represent them in a role meant for someone with their background, for someone who's already unrepresented. In other words, it's an excuse that we can all partake in despite how "woke" we consider ourselves.

Slate comments on how she once justified the role to herself. She states, "At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play Missy because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I. But Missy is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people." 

The solutions lie in admitting our past mistakes and vowing to do better. As Slate continues, "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. Ending my portrayal of Missy is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions." According to the creators of the show, they will be pursuing a Black actor to voice Missy and that’s a step toward the right direction that will hopefully inspire others.

Maria Dorado

Posted on June 26, 2020 09:37

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Source: CNN

Jenny Slate has announced she will no longer voice the character of Missy Foreman-Greenwald, a young mixed-race girl on the...

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