This article contains spoilers from the Season Four of the Netflix show “Big Mouth,” which started streaming on Dec. 4, 2020.
Since June, the recasting of Missy Foreman-Greenwald's voice on Netlix’s adult animated show “Big Mouth” has helped put forward the conversation of how television showrunners should handle white voice actors playing characters of color. Though, by the time the decision had been made to give Missy a new voice, the majority of Slate’s lines had already been recorded; they decided to bring in her new voice at the end of the season after Missy spends it starting her racial identity discovery.
A journey I found myself relating to in every episode that touched on it.
A New Fit, A New Fight
Her journey into embracing her Blackness first begins in episode two, “The Hugest Period Ever,” when she visits family in Atlanta. This is where we meet Missy’s father’s side of the family, namely her two cousins Lena and Quinta (voiced by Lena Waithe and Quinta Brunson).
On two notable occasions in season four, Missy ends up breaking the fourth wall in regards to her voice actress being a white woman: the first of these instances is after Quinta says the line “N*ggas ain’t shit,” and Missy immediately becomes uncomfortable and replies “N-word alert.”
The cousins criticize her mother immediately for teaching her that and Missy explains that yes, her mother told her she was never supposed to say that word. Lena tells her she can still say it and Missy replies she definitely cannot.
As if to emphasize this point, Missy looks directly at the viewer and says “I promise you, it is not okay for me to say that word.” This is when you realize Missy herself is not saying it isn’t okay for her to say the word—it is Jenny Slate herself going right to the audience and acknowledging her role as a white actress playing a character that is both Black and white Jewish.
Slate’s whiteness, in this case, prevented Missy’s character from being able to say a word that could have potentially opened a door to a conversation about the reclamation of slurs by minority groups. I think a conversation like this could come on a later season of “Big Mouth,” however.
Missy goes on to tell her cousins that she was raised in a post-racial household (something I was also raised to believe, being Black and white) and the cousins retort by telling her:
“Your parents have never let you be Black.”
This whole episode truly shook me to my core. It was nearly the same exact thing people had told me during my time in college the longer I was enrolled. More so it shook me because I didn’t know I was Black until I was 11 years old and in fifth grade.
The kids at school started asking me “what” I was. I told them I was white even though that was only half of the answer. Even though my father is Black, my mother’s live-in boyfriend was white and I had always called him “Dad.” It wasn’t until I got older and the kids started telling me how much I didn’t look like my “dad” that I began to question the truth.
“Mom, who’s my dad?” I began to ask her. She would reply that her white live-in boyfriend was my dad and that was all I needed to know. After another round of debating with the kids at school, I finally went home and said, “There’s this girl in my class who keeps telling me I’m half-Black.”
“Because you are, Erika,” my mother responded, “I don’t understand why you have to act stupid about it.”
By telling me I was acting stupid about it, I had to immediately internalize this race revelation in silence.