Back at the beginning of the year, Hank Azaria decided to vacate the role of convenience store owner Apu on The Simpsons after the character became embroiled in controversy for not just encouraging stereotypes of Indian characters, but for being voiced by an actor who was white. Now The Simpsons will be following suit across the board by no longer having white actors voice any characters of color from here on out.
The Simpsons isn’t the only FOX animated series making changes with how they cast characters of color. Family Guy voice actor Mike Henry will be walking away from voicing the role of Cleveland Brown, a character he has played since the beginning of the series back in 1999.
TV Line has word direct from FOX about The Simpsons new policy in casting characters for the show. The network made a brief statement saying simply, “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”
This decision will result in several changes on the show. For example, Hank Azaria has also been voicing the Black character Carlton Carlson, and Harry Shearer has lent his voice to Dr. Julius M. Hibbert, another Black character on the show. Tress MacNeille has also voiced Dr. Hibbert’s wife Bernice and Apu’s wife Manjula, along with the Asian character Cookie Kwan. That will no longer be the case with The Simpsons‘ new policy on characters of color. It’s not clear how soon the show might find replacement actors to voice those characters, especially since they don’t appear very often.
Meanwhile, Family Guy voice actor Mike Henry announced himself that he will be leaving the role of Cleveland Brown on the animated series. He’s been voicing the character since 1999, including when the character got his own spin-off series. But on Friday, he posted this statement to Twitter:
It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. pic.twitter.com/FmKasWITKT
— Mike Henry (@mikehenrybro) June 26, 2020
The voice of Cleveland Brown is a unique one, and he’s a character who appears much more frequently than any of the supporting characters of color on The Simpsons. Finding a replacement actor won’t be easy, but this is definitely the right decision for Henry to make.
It’s a little frustrating that it took this long for such a change to happen, especially since it means whoever replaces Henry will never have a chance to lead their own show as Cleveland Brown. But since Family Guy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, the role will be a good opportunity for whoever gets the part.
This is only the latest change in the voice casting of characters of color on prominent animated shows. Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate both recently left their roles as mixed race characters on Central Park and Big Mouth respectively. Meanwhile, shows like 30 Rock and Scrubs have been removing episodes from streaming and syndication that contain characters in blackface. A lot of progressive changes are continuing to be made in Hollywood, and surely plenty more will be coming.
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