Jenny Slate steps down from voicing a biracial character on Netflix’s ‘Big Mouth’

Critics’ Choice Awards 2019

Jenny Slate voices the lead character on Netflix’s Big Mouth. The character is Missy, who is biracial. Jenny Slate is…not biracial. I don’t know if this was already a conversation around Big Mouth and Jenny Slate – if it was, it had not reached peak outrage – but Slate decided to do the right thing and withdraw from voicing Missy, effective immediately. The show recently wrapped on its fourth season, meaning the season coming up on Netflix will still have the Missy character voiced by Slate. The intention from producers was to make six seasons, so the second half of the Big Mouth run (seasons 4-6) will feature a black or biracial actress voicing Missy. Jenny apologized for taking the voice work, and Nick Kroll and other producers released a statement about it too:

Jenny Slate is exiting her role as Missy on the Netflix show “Big Mouth” due to the character being biracial while Slate is white.

“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,” Slate wrote on Instagram. But ‘Missy’ is also Black and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.” Slate went on to acknowledge that by portraying Missy she 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,” she continued.

“Big Mouth” co-creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett posted a statement as well supporting Slate’s decision. “We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a white actor to voice a biracial character.” The creators then vowed to recast the role with a Black actor. “We look forward to being able to explore Missy’s story with even greater authenticity in the years to come,” they concluded.

[From Variety]

This reminds me of how long it took to get Hank Azaria to stop voicing Apu on The Simpsons. It was years and years of conversations and arguments about whether it was racist to have a white actor doing virtual brownface (complete with a hackey Indian accent). It would have been great for all of the creators of animated films & TV shows to have watched that Azaria/Apu issue and realized that “voice appropriation” would always come back to bite. But here we are. I appreciate Slate’s statement, and the statement from producers. (What’s the over/under on producers asking Zoe Kravitz to voice Missy?)

slate missy

Photos courtesy of WENN, Netflix.

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58 Responses to “Jenny Slate steps down from voicing a biracial character on Netflix’s ‘Big Mouth’”

  1. Chica1971 says:

    Kristen Bell also stopped voicing her black character yesterday too.

    • Lucy2 says:

      Good- I was about to say she needs to follow Jenny’s lead.
      I don’t know how either of them rationalized it to themselves that taking those roles was appropriate.

  2. Slowdown says:

    I am sorry but it’s a “woopsie!” Kind of decision. Same as Bell’s.
    This is the thing: it seems to me that because it’s just a voice and not a body, casting directors are still doing what they’ve always been doing: hiring white actors for the main character. Which really proves that systemic racism is a hell of a powerful thing. Because I’m not even saying it’s done out of cruelty. It’s just done.

    • Sankay says:

      Female characters are often voiced by male voice actors too. This is true for Bob’s Burgers. Will that change as well?

      • Tonode says:

        I don’t think it’s fair to place males voicing females in the same category as blackface\voice. Drag is a thing and I don’t see anything wrong with drag.

      • Slowdown says:

        @Tonode, for the sake of the argument it would be good to check pay rate and see that not only women are usually paid less than their male counterparts but on top of that they also get less jobs even when technically they could go for them. Are there any women doing male voices? Are there more or less animated films with women leads? I think it’s a safe question to ask with many sub-questions.

      • Dutch says:

        @Slowdown: Pssst. Bart Simpson and many other male characters on The Simpsons are voiced by Nancy Cartwright (and have been for the entire run of the show). Tress MacNeille has also voiced male characters on the show. Tara Strong voiced the lead of Ben 10 and Timmy in Fairly OddParents, Regina King voiced Huey Freeman on Boondocks, Pamela Adlon voiced Bobby Hill on King of the Hill, Tommy Pickles was voiced by EG Daily.

      • Natasha says:

        @Slowdown One that immediately came to mind is Bart Simpson. He’s voiced by a woman, who is also a member of Scientology. (A few years ago she even did some fundraising for Scientology and robocalled people as Bart.)

        But honestly – I can’t think of any others.

      • Slowdown says:

        Thanks @dutch I couldn’t be arsed to google this. Appreciate your examples. Again, would love to know statistics and pay rate.

  3. Sayrah says:

    Big mouth is hilarious. I’m glad for this change but unlike Azaria, Jenny didn’t put an affect on the character’s voice. I think she does a white character on the show too.

    • Sayrah says:

      Come to think of it nick Kroll does a few characters too – including a girl.

    • bosandi says:

      Big mouth is hilarious. I appreciate Slate’s gesture but I don’t think this is comparable to Azaria – that was offensive. The character Missy is a biracial girl who is quirky and lives in a white world. Slate executes this perfectly and there is no “voice appropriation” violation.

  4. Darla says:

    But why didn’t they know this right away? I’m not a genius, and if someone had asked me to voice a black character TEN years ago, I’d have been like, no that’s not cool. So i don’t get this. From what I understand Slate’s character is also half Jewish, so… maybe that was the rationalization? And Kristen Bell? Come on now! Sorry that’s literally a no-brainer.

    • Bananas says:

      You know… not so long ago on this site, when James Marsden was doing black impressions in interviews, I mentioned that acting black and putting on affectations was as bad as blackface.

      Many readers right here refused to hear it and insisted it was just light hearted fun. Sometimes it takes saying it a few times, in different contexts for people to really see the insidiousness of privilege and how each of us, however innocently, might be contributing to a system of oppression.

      Now more than ever, I am reminded of this quote, “For those accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.

      Just like Scarlet Johansson whom we’ve not yet heard from… hopefully she is beginning to understand why she CAN but SHOULDN’T play any tree.

      • Darla says:

        Bananas, you’re right, it does seem to take repeating. Like a lot. I have noticed a move away from some of the misogynistic coverage that used to make me cringe too on some celebrity sites. I mean, I honestly never saw those Lainey racist posts, but I don’t think I was reading celebrity news when she did those. And I do not read her every day or even every week. But I did cringe at some of her misogynistic posts. I found a post by Michael K, that he deleted, but someone had the link to, so you were able to see the title, about a now-out gay male actor who is a fav of mine, and I almost died, I could not even believe what I just read, and that was just the title. This probably would have been made post-Perez Hilton. But you can see people changing in real time, the thing is is it authentic change? And I think in some cases it is and in some cases…it isn’t. I didn’t know about Marsden and I hope racial stuff isn’t flying more under my radar than it should. I had no idea.

      • Otaku fairy says:

        Both of those men have created communities that are highly toxic and problematic in quite a few areas, including misogynoir. They’re examples of how marginalized men can just automatically expect and rightfully receive protection from marginalized women, without giving or even being expected to offer marginalized women the same rightfully deserved societal protection in return. Not all are like that of course, but it’s a power imbalance in the culture that males need to see being corrected early in life in order for things to change.

    • alibeebee says:

      Slates Character is Jewish ( not half) her mother is Jewish that makes missy fully and completely Jewish ( Like Drake … he’s fully Jewish not half) and Black.. there are many Jewish and Black Actors that can be the voice of Missy( Maya Rudolph, Zoe Kravits, Jessica Parker Kennedy.. i can keep going) … This is an oft problem in the Jewish side of things some Jewish people think they can be the voice of Jews of Colour ( especially black ones) we may share the same things .. but we still have differing experiences, that paler Jews can never / could never experience and feel. Jenny Slate did the right thing. She gave a good apology .. there is still more work to be done, but it’s a good first step.

      ( I am saying this only because I am black and I am Jewish) I’m a JOC – and with JOC fans of the show this irked us to no end. Jenny was stubborn saying she could play this Jewish character because she is too… but why not find another JOC who can speak be the voice , represent? there’s lots of us out there! so I know there are still issues .. but at least they’re making steps in the right direction. I really hope they can move forward and keep going.

    • Yati says:

      Exactly. I keep hearing the excuse that we accepted it back then or didn’t know any better. Um…this show is on its 3rd/4th season? It’s not that old. People keep excusing white ignorance and praising when the bare minimum is done.

  5. lola says:

    Hm, she shouldn’t have gotten the part, but I’m glad that she realized it and stepped away.

  6. Michael says:

    When Seth MacFarlane was doing The Cleavland Show he had only two black actors doing voice work for the black casts and a white guy was and still is the voice of the main character. It is his rational that voices are colorblind but he never has black voices doing white characters. It only works one way with him. I love his shows but this has always been a problem in Hollywood

    • Becks1 says:

      “he never has black voices doing white characters” – exactly, that’s where the “voice actors are colorblind” argument falls apart, it never goes the other way.

    • Mommy says:

      I actually can think of one French film where a black actor dubbed a white one (Vinn Diesel). But that’s it.

  7. Becks1 says:

    I’m glad you’re covering this because I was going to mention it in the Kerry Washington post.

    My husband and I were talking about it yesterday – I have never heard of this show but I guess one of his damn podcasts was talking about it (I hate Dan Lebatard, btw, lol) – he asked what I thought generally of a white person voicing a biracial animated character. I said while yes, the character is half-white, my feeling was that it should be voiced by a black actor, and that white actors are so often considered the default in situations like this. I’m glad Jenny Slate stepped away but she should haven never accepted the role. Same with Kristen Bell.

  8. BlackWomenMatter says:

    Why are all the characters and commercials featuring biracials instead of black people? That is more offensive than the voicing of the characters by white people.

  9. Kealeen says:

    Zoe Kravitz was my first thought, too! Jahkara Smith would also be great.

    • CherryL says:

      She isn’t even biracial tho.

      • tomato8o says:

        So what? Is every actor who plays an Italian-American character 100% Italian? A Black woman can absolutely play a biracial character. I actually don’t know why I’m even responding to this comment because it’s so absurd.

      • Kealeen says:

        Wow @cherryl, I didn’t know it was necessary for WOC to include their 23andMe results on their resumé.

      • Boxy Lady says:

        If you’re talking about Zoe Kravitz, she has 2 white Jewish grandparents and 2 black grandparents. Sounds biracial to me.

      • Peanutbuttr says:

        Lenny and Lisa Bonet are both biracial

    • tomato8o says:

      I was thinking Kat Graham (from the Vampire Diaries) because her “Black and Jewish” parody video popped into my head.

    • Dutch says:

      My money is on Rashida Jones she fits the profile and has previous connections to Kroll (he had a recurring role on Parks & Rec and dated Amy Poehler for a bit).

      • Anne Call says:

        Wait, what. She dated Amy Poehler?

        Also Maya Rudolph’s character on this show, Connie the hormone monstress, is one of the best and funniest character’s on tv. Love her!

      • Jaded says:

        Anne Call – she meant Kroll dated Amy Poehler.

    • Steph says:

      My first thought was Nicole Byer. She would make an excellent Missy!

      Side note:
      Kelsey Ansible (a Chinese/Caucasian American actress) Better stop pretending to be Native American on screen. She’s done it several time and it’s insulting. There are a hundred native actresses who could fill those roles.

      AND

      anime voice actors must be quaaaaaaking in their boots. I once saw an interview with two white dudes who voiced anime characters and the most offensive thing they said was that Japanese people make a noise when they turn their heads. WTF????? I studied Japanese in college (i wanted to be a diplomat When o grew up) and thus met/became friends with a lot of people in the Japanese study department. None of them made any noises when they turned their heads.

      Point of the story- white people need to stop voicing/representing POC

  10. Snazzy says:

    I finally saw movie with her the other day – Gifted – she’s annoying.
    That’s all I’ve got.

  11. CherryL says:

    This is just dumb. What’s going on in the world. Voices aren’t black or white. Skin color isn’t more than an evolutionary adaptation. We need to stop making it into more than it is.

    • Lucy2 says:

      That would be true if all things were equal, but they’re not. It’s like Scarlett Johansson‘s argument, it’s based in an ideal world where everyone has the same opportunities. Unfortunately that’s just not the case. As others pointed out above, there are no black actors voicing white characters.

      • Bananas says:

        ^^ this. We get to be colourblind and not care when there truly is justice and equality. In order to get there, we need to step up protections and opportunities for the most vulnerable and marginalised to ensure no-one gets left behind after centuries of systemic oppression.

    • lola says:

      Biracial or black actors can’t even book voicing jobs for characters that look like them. The default setting is to give it to white people like Jenny. That is wrong. and it needs to be talked about and there have to be changes.

    • Slowdown says:

      This is a question of social equity and not biological reasoning. Obviously.
      It’s like saying that Ethnic minorities are being more affected by Covid19 and someone replying that is nonsense, we all have the same bodies.

    • Milkweed says:

      Oof. It’s not helpful to claim to be colorblind.

    • Marianne says:

      It’s great in theory to say it doesn’t matter. Acting is acting…blah blah blah but the world does t actually work that way. When POC of colour have enough trouble getting their foot in the door as is, isn’t it a slap on the face of they can’t even get a role for someone who actually looks like them. So until the day that there is actually more equal representation on screen, then maybe we can discuss the merit of having a white actress voice a bi racial character…

    • Jaded says:

      @CherryL – it wouldn’t be “dumb” if white people weren’t dominating roles that SHOULD go to POC. We don’t need to stop making it into more than it is, we need to highlight that it is wayyyy more than what you think it is. It’s a matter of fair and equal hiring of POC. This is the second ignorant comment you’ve made on this thread. Maybe you should go elsewhere for your celebrity news.

  12. Gail says:

    I think Jenny Slate and the producers handled this well. Jenny also gave her reason why she rationalized accepting the role in the first place and realized she was wrong in doing so. One of the writers on the show, Brandon Kyle Goodman, has posted some really moving videos re: BLM on his Instagram for anyone who wants to check it out.

  13. Lenny says:

    This makes me think about Bojack Horseman and Alison Brie voicing the voice of Diane Nguyen, a Viet-American character. I always liked Alison, but I always thought it was strange that Diane wasn’t voiced by a Vietnamese actress. I get it that the show was about animal people and also humans, but they could have used a Vietnamese actress to voice her.

  14. Yati says:

    This is the most attention she’s gotten since dating Captain America. All the praise these folks are getting for doing the “right thing” is exhausting and continues to keep white voices as the centered topic during this time. I’m tired.

    • Darla says:

      “Continues to keep white voices as the centered topic…”

      I guess that’s true huh? Should they just stop doing these stupid things and not release statements? Ideally they wouldn’t have been cast in the first place of course. Is it done for attention or approval cookies?

      • Yati says:

        Part attention and part actionable item. However, they could’ve kept quiet until they hired a black woman to voice the next season to fully execute their intentions but right now the focus is on Slate and by extension Kroll, both whites being praised for taking action. But really Slate did it to avoid negative attention, smart move on her part. I had seen people on social media before the newest season was released question why she was voicing a black character. And nothing was done ‘till now.

  15. Sunday says:

    “But it’s just a cartoon!” Yea, sure. Except in 2020 that means it’s meme culture and reaction clips and cult-like stanning of characters and the actors who play them; it’s resumé building and job opportunities for the actors involved (and the writers/producers behind them) – it’s visibility.

    “How come it’s ok for bart simpson to be voiced by a woman?!” Well Chad, it’s because white boys and men can look literally anywhere else in the entire mediascape and see themselves, and because women are notoriously underhired and underpaid in Hollywood so having a woman behind such an iconic voice also helps boost other women in and aspiring to the industry. From the time we are kids, biracial and Black children are surrounded by society, institutions, entertainment, and stories that are overwhelmingly, suffocatingly white. The few POC stories are largely produced, written, and staffed by white people, and many times perpetuate unfair stereotypes and just fail miserably at any halfhearted attempts at diverse storytelling. That leaves those children of color without any representation within the wide scope of the entertainment and media world, which has an enormous impact on how we see the world (and our place in it). Allowing people from diverse backgrounds the space to represent ourselves is crucial.

    Also, just a service announcement that biracial people exist! Sometimes they even act! It’s so important to cast Black actors to play Black characters, and it’s also important to cast biracial actors to play characters that are specifically biracial in their stories. Casting does such a disservice when they cast either exclusively light skinned actors (looking at you, Netflix), or cast biracial people in Black roles. It effectively conflates and erases both of these identities.

  16. ME says:

    WHO thought it was ever a good idea to have a White person do the voice of a Black character??? How the f*ck…what the f*ck…just wow…

  17. Hello says:

    Probably because Jenny Slate and Kroll have worked together for so long…

  18. Oc says:

    When will she apologize for the fatshamming, sl*tshamming, transphobic and homophobic language she used on the tweets she quietly deleted 2 years ago? I honestly think that she and the producers realised that sooner or later they would be criticized by her casting and acted before it happened. Not the ideal scenario but it’s still better than keeping her on the show.

  19. Hildog says:

    Diane Burke (Nick Krill’s mother in the show) is a Caucasian lady voiced by Maya Rudolph. It’s also worth mentioning Missy is mixed. The whole point of Missy’s character is she is a multi-cultural nerd. Slate does a pubescent nerd with braces “voice”. This is different from the Apu situation. The whole point of acting is playing a character- especially in cartoons.

  20. MB says:

    So ridiculous.

  21. Persistent Cat says:

    Not to be that person but in no way is Missy’s character the lead.

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