The Simpsons is the latest animated series to make drastic casting changes amid the ongoing civil rights protests across the U.S. On Friday, the show's producers issued a statement saying that they'll no longer hire white voice actors to portray non-white characters.
"Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters," the statement read, via Entertainment Weekly. This is a significant turn for the longest-running scripted show in U.S. history, which has been dealing with racial blowback for years now. The main issue involves the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who owns Springfield's Kwik-E-Mart convenience store. Hank Azaria, a white actor, has voiced the character since the show's inception. He'd announced back in January that he was bidding farewell to the character. "What they're going to do with the character is their call," Azaria said. "It's up to them and they haven't sorted it out yet. All we've agreed on is I won't do the voice anymore.… We all feel like it's the right thing and good about it."
The controversy around Apu started gaining significant steam in 2017, following the release of The Problem With Apu, a truTV documentary from comedian Hari Kondabolu. The documentary detailed how the Indian character of Apu became the personification of the problematic stereotypes of South Asian people. The Simpsons attempted to address the backlash in an episode, which only generated more backlash on social media.
The scene in question, which came at the very end of the episode, found Marge reading an edited version of The Princess in the Garden to her daughter, Lisa. However, Lisa then broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience directly. "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" She then looked at a picture of Apu that included Bart's catchphrase old "Don't have a cow!" Marge then weighed in with, "some things will be dealt with at a later date." To which Lisa replied, "If at all."
Along with The Simpsons, fellow Fox animated sitcom Family Guy has announced that the character of Cleveland, who's Black, will no longer be voiced by Mike Henry, a white actor. Similarly, Jenny Slate announced she was stepping down from the role of Missy in Big Mouth, stating that she "was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people." Kristen Bell, who voices Molly in the AppleTV+ series Central Park, will play a different character in future episodes, while Molly will be re-cast.