With the season four premiere of Netflix Original Series, Big Mouth (2017), many fans may have noticed a character change. 10 new episodes were released on December 4th and everyone’s favorite nerdy character, Missy Foreman-Greenwald, is voiced by another actor mid season. After three seasons of actor and comedian, Jenny Slate, voicing Missy, she was replaced and here’s what influenced the decision.

Jenny Slate (left) pictured next to "Big Mouth" character, Missy (right) | Credit: decider.com

Jenny Slate Quits Missy Role

On June 24th, Slate, who is white, announced that she no longer felt comfortable representing a biracial character, who is also black. In a statement posted to her Instagram account, Slate shared that “[at] the start of the show, [she] reasoned with [herself] that it was permissible for [her] to play ‘Missy’ because [Missy’s] mom is Jewish and white — as [Slate] is.” Slate acknowledges that character Missy is indeed black and that black characters should be portrayed by black actors. 

The actor goes on to explain that her “… original reasoning [for voicing Missy] was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege… and in [her] playing ‘Missy’, [she] was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people.” Slate’s decision to quit her Missy role was publicly supported by Big Mouth creator, Nick Kroll, and co-creators, Jennifer Flackett, Andrew Goldberg, and Mark Levin, in a post shared to Kroll’s Twitter on June 24th. Both Slate’s and Kroll’s complete statements are available to read below. 

Meet Ayo Edebiri

Writer and comedian, Ayo Edebiri, who is writing for Big Mouth’s fifth season, has made her debut as the new voice for character Missy. Edebiri was already writing for Big Mouth when Slate announced her departure in June. After the announcement was made, Edebiri was asked if she wanted to send in a tape for the voice of Missy. We are so lucky she agreed. 

Slate’s announcement was shared after the completion of the fourth season, with an initial plan to have someone recasted at the beginning of the show’s fifth season. “But after the ‘Big Mouth’ team realized that there was a moment in the narrative where it made sense for the switch to happen, it was decided that Edebiri would make her debut as Missy during the Season 4’s penultimate episode, ‘Horrority House.‘” From this culturally competent decision, fans are able to see Missy embrace her biracial identity and be voiced by someone who shares who experiences as a black woman.

missy voice
Ayo Edebiri, voice of Missy on "Big Mouth" | Credit: latimes.com

The Edebiri Effect

Edebiri’s contribution to the fourth season of Big Mouth– diversifying the writing room and cast –has helped change the way race is approached in entertainment. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Edebiri shared that “… [a] big part of [approaching issues around race in an authentic way in entertainment] is having [people of color] in the room and actually listening to them.” The actor explained that it should be the mission of those in entertainment to hire people of color because their voice is valued and desired to be represented, not because they check off a box. This conversation is essential to have in animated entertainment where voice actors are so easily hidden behind an animated character. 

Edebiri goes on to say that is necessary to “[make] sure that you’re actually listening to [people of colors’] voices and uplifting them and promoting them on camera or in front of the camera or the vocal talent or whatever but having them in positions of influence.” To accomplish true diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is crucial that every voice is amplified and represented. 

Actor Hank Azaria, who voiced Indian character Apu (right), announced he was stepping down in January | Credit: bbc.com

Big Mouth is not the only adult animated sitcom to have writers and actors who have come to recognize their engagement in the erasure of people of color by casting white actors to voice animated characters of ethnic backgrounds. Producers of The Simpsons (1989) “issued a statement [in June] saying that from now on, its characters of color will be voiced by actors of color only.” Actor, Hank Azaria, who famously voiced Indian character Apu, was the first to announce that he was stepping down from the Simpsons role in January. Actor, Mike Henry, who voiced character Cleveland Brown on Family Guy (1999), also announced his departure from the role on Twitter in June. These changes are necessary in order for white people to recognize their privilege and use it to create safe spaces for creatives and communities of color. Actors of color, such as Ayo Edebiri, are then given the opportunity to voice non-white characters and authentically share in their experiences.

Casting Edebiri was the vital change that Big Mouth needed to authentically tell Missy’s journey in embracing her mixed identity and realizing what her blackness means to her as well as actively advocating for people of color. Watch the fourth season of Big Mouth on Netflix now. 

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