The Simpsons Will No Longer Use White Actors To Voice Non-White Characters
You could make a pretty convincing argument that The Simpsons has spent the last fifteen years hovering on the very fringes of pop culture relevance through its subject matter and marked dip in quality alone. But regardless of the end product that's hit our screens weekly for the last decade or so, greater, more poignant questions have also begun being asked of the animated classic.
The show, which for a period during the '90s was quite literally the biggest pop culture export on the planet, has struggled for some time now under increasing scrutiny as to how it treats its racially-diverse cast of characters. Classic characters like Apu, the long-time Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, is being increasingly viewed by some as a stereotypical caricature, and despite attempts by the show's writing cast to add greater depth to the character in the past, the series' marginalisation of the various characters of colour in the show may go down as a major smudge on its legacy.
In an attempt to bring the show into line with the values and sentiments that have been made the focal point of public debate in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the show's producers have now announced a move that it hopes will bring greater representation to the show, stating that it will re-cast the voice talent playing its non-white characters to ensure they're racially aligned.
This has a host of ramifications for many long-time characters of the show, from Apu to Dr. Hibbert and Homer's bar buddy, Carl, all of which were voiced by white actors.
The arguably overdue move follows on from a series of moves that have been made by the casts of various large animated shows over the last year or so. In January, Hank Azaria, who voiced the aforementioned Apu for nearly 20 years, said he would be stepping down from voicing the character.
It's not a move without recent precedent. Hours before The Simpsons announcement, Mike Bell, the long-time voice of Cleveland Brown in Family Guy, announced he would be stepping away from voicing the character. "I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color," he wrote on Twitter. Shortly before this, Kristen Bell, who voices mixed race character Molly in Central Park, said she would step down from her role as well.
"Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognises that the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right - to cast a black or mixed race actress and give Molly a voice that resonates with all of the nuance and experiences of the character as we've drawn her," wrote the producers of Central Park in a statement.
Sharing the statement on her Instagram page, Bell added: "Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege.
"Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and black American experience. It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right."
Jenny Slate, who plays mixed-race character Missy in Netflix animated teen comedy Big Mouth, also announced that she was stepping down from her role as the character. In a statement posted to her Instagram, she wrote: "At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play 'Missy' because her mom is Jewish and white - as am I. But 'Missy' is also black, and black characters on an animated show should be played by black people."
"I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made with a system of societal white supremacy and that in me playing 'Missy', I was engaging in an act of erasure of black people.
"Ending my portrayal of 'Missy' is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions."