The Simpsons creator Matt Groening responded to the recent recasting of non-white roles on the long-running Fox animated comedy. Although he did not believe there was a problem with having white voice actors play characters like Apu or Dr. Hibbert, Groening said in a rare interview this week that the changes were necessary. In recent years, Hank Azaria left Apu, and just this week, Harry Shearer stepped away from playing Dr. Hibbert, who will now be voiced by Family Guy veteran Kevin Michael Richardson.
The spotlight has been shining on The Simpsons' casting ever since the documentary The Problem With Apu was released in 2018. The Simpsons producers at first stood by having Azaria play the character, with Lisa infamously saying in one episode, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" In a new interview with the BBC, Groening acknowledged that "times change," but he "didn't have a problem with the way we were doing it. All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone."
Last year, Azaria finally said he will no longer voice Apu. The part will go to a South Asian actor, but the role has not been recast yet. “All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore unless there’s some way to transition it or something,” Azaria told Slash Film in January 2020. The most recent change for The Simpsons happened just this week, when 20th Television announced that Sunday's episode "Dairy Queen" would be the last time Shearer, who is white, will voice Hibbert, a Black character. Richardson's debut as Hibbard will be in the Feb. 28 episode "Wad Goals." Shearer voiced the character for over three decades, beginning with Hibbert's introduction in Season 2.
During his BBC interview, Groening was asked if he had any regrets about how he handled the situation. "At a certain point, it doesn't matter what you say. You're going to be attacked by whoever, you know?" he said. "We're not going out of our way to comfort bigots. On the other hand, if you do any kind of gesture and people perceive a weakness, you'll be criticized."
However, Groening, who is now working on Disenchantment for Netflix, does agree that showbusiness does need to change. "I absolutely agree with that. And we're trying to make it better," the veteran animator said. "Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it's good to finally go for more equality and representation." New episodes of The Simpsons air on Fox Sundays at 8 p.m. ET.