A few weeks ago we reported on a story from The Simpsons (which you can read here) about new rules being implemented for voice acting on the show. The gist of the change is that white actors would not be able to voice characters who are non-white. A laudable move albeit one that comes off the efforts of societal pressure. Nevertheless, the change was made but there were no details attached to how this would work.
Recently, Harry Shearer, an original cast member of the show, who voices many characters including Dr. Hibbert (who is black) has voiced his differing opinion on the matter. Speaking with the Radio Times he had this to say:
“I have a very simple belief about acting,” Shearer said. “The job of the actor is to play someone who they are not. That’s the gig, that’s the job description.”
“I think there’s a conflation between representation, which is important — people from all backgrounds should be represented in the writing and producing ends of the business so they help decide what stories to tell and with what knowledge — and performance,” Shearer said. “The job is playing someone I’m not.”
When asked whether he thought the show’s decision was a mistake, he said he wasn’t “opining publicly on that matter” and joked, “we don’t get paid by the voice.”
These comments are curious considering Hank Azaria stepped down from playing Apu earlier this year due to the backlash with that character.
Shearer is unfortunately not seeing the bigger picture. He highlights representation but all too often brands, companies etc. fall back on that as a symbolic gesture meant to placate the masses. While representation is a significant goal, it negates the more immediate and pressing issue of economic fairness.
Non white actors have historically been shut out of roles and there are numerous examples of white actors providing the voice of a non white character or playing a minority in big blockbusters. The entertainment industry isn’t immune from bias or preferential treatment. Rather than being defensive actors should speak up and help each other. Regrettably, Shearer doesn’t see it this way.
The show has yet to reveal the details of their new rule so it is curious to see how this all unfolds as the new season approaches in September.