Warning: spoilers ahead for Big Mouth season 4.
In Big Mouth season 4's "A Very Special 9/11 Episode," Missy Foreman-Greenwald, voiced by Jenny Slate, admits she's struggling with her identity. "My mom's white, my dad's Black, I'm voiced by a white actress who's 37 years old," she says. "It's all very overwhelming." Well, she was voiced by a 37-year-old white actress.
Over the summer, amidst the protests following the death of George Floyd, Slate made the decision that she could no longer voice the Black and Jewish character. “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 in June. "But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people."
In August, comedian and TV writer Ayo Edebiri was recast as Missy. However, due to the animated series' long lead production schedule and the pandemic, Slate still voices Missy for the majority of season 4, which addresses the issue with Slate playing Missy head-on. Early on, Missy goes to Atlanta to visits her cousins, voiced by Lena Waithe and Quinta Brunson, who encourage her to explore her Black heritage.
Somehow, though, slowly phasing Slate out of the role gives Missy's journey to find herself more weight. Not to mention, it forces Big Mouth to grapple with the initial decision to colorblind cast a character of color. The show pokes fun at its previous blunder, sometimes rather uncomfortably in the case of a joke about Missy being unable to say certain words because she's voiced by a white actress. But the tongue-in-cheek moments put into sharper focus why it would be nearly impossible for Missy to explore her Blackness with Slate in the role. The only way for Missy to be able to grow, is for Slate to step aside and let someone else take the role.
In episode 9, "Horrority House," Edebiri makes her debut in the scene in which Missy meets her tethered in a fun house mirror. In a perfect Us send-up, Missy meets the other Missys, the Missys she could be if she's actually allowed to find herself. To do that that she needs to come to a better understanding of her racial identity.
In that moment, Edebiri was able to make Missy all her own. Her Missy is someone who is Black, but also a space nerd who has a green belt in capoeira and a huge crush on Nathan Fillion. And who knows what other pieces make up this Missy puzzle. As Missy says, "a puzzle's just a picture you haven't met yet." Her race is a big part of her puzzle, especially, when it comes to existing in a mostly white neighborhood, but it's not the only part. Edebiri told the Los Angeles Times that she saw season 4 as "the beginning of what Missy’s journey is going to be like discovering not just her Blackness but herself.”
Next season, Edebiri will be able to really reintroduce us to the mosaic that is Missy. It helps that she already feels a kinship with her. "I think Missy is one of the characters that I relate to the most. I’m very anxious and kind of dorky and weird, and definitely was that as a kid," Edebiri told Entertainment Weekly. "Also, the buckteeth, the buckteeth gang!"
Fans seem excited to take this journey of self-realization with Missy because so many, just like Edebiri, see themselves in the character. "I didn’t realize how much I needed Missy to explore her Black roots," a fan named @itsbrownee wrote. Luckily, those involved with Big Mouth did.