The Simpsons is officially ending its use of white actors to voice characters of color. Producers of the show released a very brief statement last week which offered no elaboration.
The announcement comes amid a widespread reckoning for the US about racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police and subsequent riots and calls for change.
The announcement obviously leaves more questions than answers. The show effectively retired the character of Apu after criticisms from Hari Kondabolu’s documentary and the show’s own poor response to said criticisms. You can check out my coverage of that here. Hank Azaria said earlier this year that he was done playing the character.
It’s also worth noting that Kondabolu had this to say when reacting to this news:
“My documentary ‘The Problem with Apu’ was not made to get rid of a dated cartoon character, but to discuss race, representation & my community (which I love very much)…It was also about how you can love something (like the Simpsons) & still be critical about aspects of it (Apu).”
In addition to Apu, Azaria voices the characters of Carl, Lou the cop, and Bumblebee Man. Harry Shearer voices Apu’s brother Sanjay and Dr. Julius Hibbert and Tress MacNeille voices Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon. So what does this mean for these characters? Will they be recast or unceremoniously retired like Apu? My hope is that they’re recast since these are good characters who provide their own unique style to the show. Losing them would be a major blow to the series.
Other white actors, including Mike Henry of animated series Family Guy, Kristen Bell of Central Park, and Jenny Slate of Big Mouth have also said they will no longer voice characters of color. This is part of a broader movement from the entertainment world and large corporations who want to be involved in this moment but are limited in their options. Systemic racism and police brutality are still a problem but it doesn’t hurt to know there are allies who are doing the best they can given their circumstances.