The Simpsons will no longer have white actors play non-white characters
The Simpsons is finally, officially, seeking to end the controversy over Apu.
"Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters," the producers said Friday in a statement.
Hank Azaria, who is white and has long voiced Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, said earlier this year that he was bidding farewell to the character from the long-running animated Fox comedy. "What they're going to do with the character is their call," Azaria said. "It's up to them and they haven't sorted it out yet. All we've agreed on is I won't do the voice anymore.… We all feel like it's the right thing and good about it."
Controversy around Apu built after the release of The Problem With Apu, a 2017 truTV documentary from comedian and Simpsons fan Hari Kondabolu that details how the show's popular Indian character — who was created by white writers and voiced by a white actor — offers up a problematic stereotype of South Asian people. A 2018 episode of The Simpsons attempted to address the issue but generated more backlash. In one scene, Marge was seen reading an edited version of The Princess in the Garden to Lisa, and Lisa addressed the camera and said, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" She looked at a nearby picture of Apu that featured Bart's catchphrase "Don't have a cow!" Added Marge: "Some things will be dealt with at a later date," while Lisa chimed in, "If at all."
The day after the episode aired, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean said that the episode "speaks for itself," and he later tweeted: "I truly appreciate all responses pro and con. Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right."
The producers have been largely silent on the issue since, and the latest announcement would seemingly affect other Simpsons characters, including the Azaria-voiced Carl Carlson, policeman Lou, and Dr. Nick Riviera, as well as the Harry Shearer-voiced Dr. Hibbert.
The news arrives as animated comedies are re-evaluating how they portray characters of color amid a larger cultural conversation about race and representation: Jenny Slate is exiting her biracial role on Netflix comedy Big Mouth, while Kristen Bell is stepping down from her biracial character on Apple TV+'s new Central Park. In addition, Mike Henry announced that he will no longer voice Family Guy's Cleveland, who is African-American, after a two-decade run.