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Racism and Culture

The Simpsons: White actors stop playing non-white characters amid racism debate

Matt Groening, creator of 'The Simpsons', which says it will no longer use white actors to convey characters of color
Matt Groening, creator of 'The Simpsons', which says it will no longer use white actors to convey characters of color GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File
3 min

"The Simpsons" - America's most famous cartoon family will no longer have white actors to voice non-white characters, according to production company Fox. The move follows years of pressure about racial and cultural stereotypes in what is the longest-running scripted show on US television.

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The Simpson family has accompanied millions of television viewers worldwide for more than 30 years and is syndicated in more than 100 countries.

The series is a satirical depiction of working-class life, as seen through the eyes of Homer, wife Marge and three kids Bart, Lisa and Maggie and their interactions with characters from different cultural backgrounds.

Since its creation by Matt Groening, the sitcom has used white actors to play a number of non-white characters including Harry Shearer as Dr. Julius Hibbert, who is black and Hank Azaria as Indian convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

Time to change is now

"Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters," Fox spokesman Les Eisner said in a statement.

The announcement mirrors attempts to address institutional racism in the US entertainment industry in response to the Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police violence which have swept across the globe.

In January this year, Azaria, who is not of Asian origin, announced he would stop voicing Apu after 30 years playing the character with a heavy accent.

The decision was mutual, the actor told /Film, an industry news blog.

"We all agreed on it," he said. "We all feel like it's the right thing and good about it."

Domino effect in the industry

The Fox statement did not say whether Apu or the other characters would remain on the series.

Azaria has also voiced the Simpsons characters of Black police officer Lou, black power plant employee Carl Carlson and the Mexican-American Bumblebee Man.

The announcement has had echoes across the entertainment industry.

Actors for other television shows have also said they will step down from their roles playing non-white characters, including Mike Henry of animated series Family Guy, who plays Cleveland Brown, Kristen Bell of Central Park and  Jenny Slate of Big Mouth.

Slate's statement referred to her character Missy, which she said was "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." 

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