The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening says that he didn’t have a problem with white actors playing non-white characters in the series. The beloved cartoonist explained what he meant to the BBC. He said, “Times change, but I actually didn’t have a problem with the way we were doing it. All of our actors play dozens of characters each; it was never designed to exclude anyone.” Now, that is a simple statement, but fans were always going to have some questions about the opportunities afforded to minority voice actors when the conversation around characters of color began this summer. The Simpsons has even had some experience in this department after 2017’s The Problem with Apu. In that film, Hari Kondabolu asked some questions about how the series used the character. After a long conversation Hank Azaria made the choice to step away. This week feature Harry Shearer stepping away from his role as Dr. Hibbert too.
“Last night’s episode ‘Diary Queen’ featured Harry Shearer as the voice of Dr. Hibbert for the last time,” 20th Television said in a statement. “Next Sunday’s episode ‘Wad Goals’ will have Kevin Michael Richardson voicing Dr. Hibbert — and from there on out he will voice the character.”
For his part, Shearer had some thoughts about the decision to have actors of color playing characters of a similar background. He made some argument to the Times Radio about voice actors always portraying someone else.
“I have a very simple belief about acting,” Shearer began. “The job of the actor is to play someone who they’re not… I think there’s a conflation between representation, which is important. People from all backgrounds should be represented in the writing and producing ends of the business so they help decide what stories to tell and with what knowledge."
Simpsons legend Hank Azaria also offered his perspective before stepping away from the role of Apu.
“I think it’s really important when people express themselves about racial issues, what they feel is unfair or upsetting or distressing or makes them angry, sad or hurt,” Azaria said back in 2018. “The most important thing to do is listen, try to understand, try to sympathize, which is what I’m doing. I know that The Simpsons guys are doing that too; they’re giving it a lot of thought, and we’ve discussed a little bit. They will definitely address — maybe publicly, certainly creatively within the context of the show — what they want to do, if anything, with the character.”
Did you enjoy the previous voice for Dr. Hibbert? Let us know down in the comments!