Just a few hours after Jenny Slate announced that she would no longer voice a Black character on Netflix’s Big Mouth—and months after showrunner Loren Bouchard described the situation with his new Apple series as a “casting conundrum”—Variety reports that Kirsten Bell will no longer voice a biracial character on Central Park. The show’s producers, including Bouchard, Josh Gad, Nora Smith, Halsted Sullivan, and Sanjay Shah, issued a statement today, announcing that Bell’s character of Molly will be re-cast, while the Frozen star will be given a new part on the series.
Kristen Bell is an extraordinarily talented actress who joined the cast of Central Park from nearly the first day of the show’s development—before there was even a character for her to play—and she has since delivered a funny, heartfelt, and beautiful performance. But after reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognizes that the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right—to cast a Black or mixed race actress and give Molly a voice that resonates with all of the nuance and experiences of the character as we’ve drawn her. Kristen will continue to be a part of the heart of the show in a new role but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly.
We profoundly regret that we might have contributed to anyone’s feeling of exclusion or erasure. Black people and people of color have worked and will continue to work on Central Park but we can do better. We’re committed to creating opportunities for people of color and Black people in all roles, on all our projects—behind the mic, in the writers room, in production, and in post-production. Animation will be stronger for having as many voices, experiences, and perspectives as we can possibly bring into the industry. Our shop and our show will be better for respecting the nuances and complexity around the issue of representation and trying to get it right.
It’s not clear yet when the casting changes will take effect on the show, which just released the fifth episode of its first season on Apple TV+. As we noted above, Bouchard has addressed Bell’s casting as Molly—the daughter of park manager Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.) and journalist Paige (Kathryn Hahn)—before, fielding questions about the decision during a panel at the TCA’s winter press tour back in January. At the time, Bouchard asserted his dedication to diversity both in front of and behind the camera, while also stating his belief that “It’s not ideal, but [Bell] is the ideal actress for that part.”
Bell has also released a statement about the casting change, acknowledging her “lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege” in playing the character, and hope that the role will now go tosomeone “who can give a much more accurate portrayal.”