Central Park, the upcoming new animated comedy from Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard could be good – but we have a problem. The central character in the series, Molly Tillerman, is mixed race yet Kristen Bell has been cast to voice her.
Even in less charged times, this casting is problematic, but Apple launching the series now will likely lead to a lot of criticism. In an interview with Variety earlier this year Bouchard said “Kristen needed to be Molly; we couldn’t not make her Molly so we just had to go forward. And then we arrived there and said, ‘Well.. we gotta just keep doing the best we can to balance, to turn around and give somebody the opportunity who wasn’t getting it… A commitment to diversity isn’t some odd job, it’s a commitment to making stuff better.”.
As much as we like Kristen Bell in every role we’ve seen her in, this just is clearly troublesome – there are countless Black and mixed race women who would be perfect for the role and the fact that they haven’t even been considered is not only unfair, but also crosses a line in terms of discrimination. It is no different to a white actor being asked to apply make-up to play a character of a different race. Bouchard later back tracked and said they had considered mixed race actors for the role.
In addition to the race related casting problems two other characters – both women – are voiced by men, in this case Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs. There may well be creative decisions at play in all of these casting decisions but when you create characters of a specific race or gender then you have a responsibility to support actors of those races and genders in equal measure.
Animation has a long history in people of different races and genders playing characters that don’t match them – the Simpsons famously has scrapped their character of Apu in recent years and Bart Simpson himself is played by Nancy Cartwright. However previous form doesn’t excuse poor choices that affect diversity and fairness in more recent projects.
Shout out to the wonderful Stephanie Yeboah who drew our attention to this.