The Simpsons is getting with the times.
“Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have White actors voice non-White characters,” said a statement from the show’s producers, released Friday (h/t The Hollywood Reporter). The move comes in the midst of a Hollywood reckoning that’s seen numerous individuals and creative teams coming to terms with the role they’ve played in reinforcing deep-seated racism in the United States.
In the past week alone, multiple episodes of 30 Rock were pulled from streaming and syndication because they contained scenes featuring white actors in Blackface. (There are still other things people would like to see 30 Rock address, for what it’s worth.)
Elsewhere, Big Mouth and Central Park both made casting changes aimed at giving people of color roles for BIPOC characters who had previously been voiced by white women. Jenny Slate voluntarily stepped down from her role of Missy on Big Mouth on Wednesday, and Central Park creators confirmed a short time later that Kristen Bell will no longer voice the biracial character Molly on the Apple TV+ series.
That it took The Simpsons a little extra time to catch on and impose a change is no surprise. The show has been slow to address its own struggles with representation in the past, a fact highlighted most directly by Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary, The Problem with Apu, and the length of time it existed before the show took any meaningful action.
Kondabolu’s deep-dive specifically focuses on the character of Apu, Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart proprietor. Apu’s original conceit is based on Indian stereotypes that proliferated in America, including his exaggerated accent and day job running a convenience store. The documentary explores Apu’s creation and the harmful effect his presence had on young Americans of South Asian descent.
While the documentary was released in late 2017, it wasn’t until earlier in 2020 that real change came for The Simpsons. In January, longtime Apu voice actor Hank Azaria revealed that he would no longer play that role on the show, framing it as a “mutual decision” made in conjunction with the show’s creative team that “we all agreed on.”
Even then, months before nationwide protests that sprung up after the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the Apu revelation bred more questions. People wanted to know, what about the other Springfield characters who are either similarly rooted in regressive stereotypes or are simply taking work away from BIPOC?
The newly announced change should impact a number of key figures around Springfield. Azaria also voices Bumblebee Man, who is Hispanic; and Springfield cop Carl Carlson, who is Black. There’s also Dr. James Hibbert, Judge Roy Snyder (both voiced by Harry Shearer), and Apu’s wife Manjula, voiced by Tress MacNeille.
There are others, too. The statement doesn’t make clear exactly which voices are changing, perhaps because the show’s producers are themselves still figuring that out. There’s a sizable cast of main characters who recur from season to season, but many of Springfield’s residents appear sporadically enough that longer-running repeat offenders could be something the show addresses case-by-case.
Family Guy, another popular animated sitcom from Fox, is also set for some changes. Mike Henry, who is white, confirmed Friday on Twitter that he’ll no longer voice the character of Cleveland, who is Black. Cleveland has been a series regular since the earliest days of Family Guy, and was even popular enough to merit a spin-off that last for four seasons, starting in 2009.