The Simpsons first aired in 1989 and its 31st season had its finale on May 17

By Robyn Merrett
June 26, 2020 08:18 PM
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Apu from The Simpsons
Fox

The Simpsons will no longer cast white actors to voice characters of color.

Fox confirmed the news in a statement to PEOPLE, saying, "Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white actors."

The announcement comes after Hank Azaria announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down from his role as Apu Nahasapeemapetilon —  who has become a controversial character on the Fox television franchise — as many have argued that the character exploited stereotypes and should not have been voiced by a white actor.

In an interview with The New York Times, Azaria said the decision was made after a years-long process of examining his own feelings and listening to the opinions of people who said they had been offended by Apu.

“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria, 55, told the outlet. “It just didn’t feel right.”

Controversy has surrounded the character since the release of a 2017 documentary called The Problem with Apu, in which writer Hari Kondabolu argued Apu perpetuates racial stereotypes through mannerisms and an exaggerated accent. Apu has been a character on the Fox television series since 1990.

The Simpsons
fox

The Simpsons adds to the list of animated series that have decided to step away from casting white actors in roles of color.

Earlier this week, Big Mouth's Jenny Slate and Central Park's Kristen Bell announced that they are leaving their roles on the shows, which will both be recast with a Black or mixed race actor.

Slate, 38, revealed the news on Wednesday, explaining that she, a white woman, "can no longer" play the role of Missy, a biracial character on the animated Netflix series created by Nick Kroll.

"I have come to the decision today that I can no longer play the character of 'Missy' on the animated TV show Big Mouth. 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," Slate wrote on Instagram.

Slate went on to say that her original reasoning was "flawed," explaining "it existed as an example 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," Slate continued.

Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate
Jeff Vespa/WireImage. Inset: Apple TV Plus, Netflix

While Slate admitted that she "can't change the past" in regards to "mistakes" she's made when it comes to her career in comedy, she can "take accountability" for her choices.

Kroll, 42, also announced Slate's decision on Twitter, writing: "After thoughtful discussion with us and our Black collaborators, Jenny Slate has decided, and we wholeheartedly agree, that Missy on Big Mouth should be voiced by a Black actor."

"We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a White actor to voice a biracial character. We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we're working hard to do better moving forward," Kroll continued.

Also on Wednesday, Bell and Josh Gad announced in a statement shared to their respective Instagram accounts that the actress will no longer be playing the role of Molly Tillerman, who is mixed race, on his Apple TV+ series Central Park.

"Kristen Bell is an extraordinary talented actress who joined the cast of Central Park from nearly the first day of the show's development — before there was even a character for her to play — and she has since delivered a funny, heartfelt, and beautiful performance," the statement begins.

"But after reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognizes 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," it continues.

Bell, who starred with Gad on Disney's Frozen, also addressed her decision to step down from the role in her caption.

"This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. 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," she said. "It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion."