A pair of Fox animated series, including The Simpsons, the longest-running sitcom on TV, are responding to a renewed entertainment industry focus on issues of racial representation and diversity by going on the hunt for new voice actors to give life to characters who hail from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Producers of The Simpsons, which is closing in on 31 years of continuous new episodes, announced Friday the show would recast all of the voice roles for non-white characters that are currently played by white actors. “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have White actors voice non-White characters,” the show revealed in a statement quoted by The Hollywood Reporter.
Family Guy, the long-running animated comedy from creators Seth MacFarlane and David Zuckerman, also will be seeking a replacement for the part of Cleveland Brown (an African-American character who also spun off for four animated comedy seasons with The Cleveland Show). Voice actor Mike Henry, who has played the bumbling dad throughout all his appearances on Fox, shared with Twitter followers (including MacFarlane, who retweeted the comment) that he’s loved being a part of Family Guy, but that “persons of color should play characters of color.”
The Simpsons' recasting announcement comes in the wake not only of recent attention to racial issues in Hollywood and throughout the U.S., but also the less recent controversy that surrounded actor Hank Azaria’s voice role on the show as Indian-American Kwik-E-Mart store proprietor Apu. Following a long-running challenge to Fox’s continued recasting of one of the series’ most beloved characters, Azaria — who voiced the part for close to three decades — said earlier this year he would step away from the role. Since that controversy reached its peak in 2017, Apu’s image has continued to appear in the series, but the character hasn’t been given any speaking lines since October of that year, via THR.
Another big name who’s voiced non-white characters on The Simpsons (along with plenty of white ones, including Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, and many more) is Harry Shearer, the voice behind the African-American Dr. Julius M. Hibbert. Fox’s announcement comes on the heels of similar recasting decisions from throughout the animation world, including actor Jenny Slate, who said this week she would no longer provide voice work for biracial character Missy Foreman-Greenwald on Netflix's Big Mouth; and Kristen Bell, who announced she’s stepping away from her Central Park voice role as mixed-race character Molly on Apple TV+.