In a statement to AFP News on June 26, producers of the Emmy Award-winning show, The Simpsons, announced that “moving forward, white actors will no longer voice non-white characters.” The change, which seems to already be underway, will impact characters such as Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian-American grocer who became synonymous with the series through his iconic use of the line “thank you, come again.” Played by Hank Azaria, a white actor, the portrayal of Nahasapeemapetilon’s character has long come under fire from critics, with a documentary named “The Problem with Apu” being written and released by comedian, Hari Konabol in 2017.
Also impacting the character of Dr Hibbert, an African-American man also known as Springfield’s most competent doctor, the change will require the dismissal of Harry Shearer, a white actor who currently lends his voice to other characters on the series, including Homer Simpson’s boss, Mr. Burns and the family’s chatty neighbor, Ned Flanders.
While changes to the show were somewhat unprecedented considering the similar backlash they have faced for years, their decision was not made in isolation. Fellow white actors Mike Henry and Jenny Slate also announced they would be leaving their respective roles of Cleveland Brown and Missy Foreman-Greenwald across animated shows Family Guy and Big Mouth. “It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry said on Twitter. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
Similarly taking to Instagram with a long post outlining her decision, Slate said “I have come to the decision today that I can no longer play the character of “Missy” on the animated TV show “Big Mouth.” Following an explanation of her rationale and an admission of guilt, the comedian says “I can’t change the past, but I can take accountability for my choices. I will continue to engage in meaningful anti-racist action, to be thoughtful about the messages in my work, to be curious and open to feedback, and to do my best to take responsibility for the ways that I am a part of the problem.” She ends by apologizing to those she has hurt, saying “I am so very sorry. Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter.”