In the wake of widespread reckoning for US pop culture about racism following mass protests over the killings of African Americans by police that began following the death of George Floyd, long-running animated sitcoms like "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" are ending the use of white actors to voice non-white characters.
"Moving forward, 'The Simpsons' will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters," Fox spokesman Les Eisner said in a statement on Friday.
The move comes after more than three decades of the animated sitcom using white actors to play a number of non-white characters in a casting practice that became known as "whitewashing." These include the Indian convenience store character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, voiced by Hank Azaria, and the African-American Dr. Julius Hibbert, played by Harry Shearer.
Earlier this year, Azaria, who is not South Asian, announced that he would no longer voice the thickly-accented Indian-American character he has played since 1990. "All we know there is I won't be doing the voice anymore, unless there's some way to transition it or something," Azaria told Slash Film, before adding that the decision was mutual. "We all agreed on it," he said. "We all feel like it's the right thing and good about it."
Comedian Hari Kondabolu's 2017 documentary "The Problem with Apu" addressed the subject of a white man — Azaria — voicing an Indian American character that advances stereotypes on "The Simpsons." Azaria also voices Lou, a Black Springfield police sergeant, Julio, a Latino character, and Bumblebee Man, a Spanish-speaking character. In a statement on Instagram on Friday, Azaria said he's "extremely pleased" by the producers' decision to recast the characters.
'Family Guy' Actor Steps Down from Cleveland Role
On Friday, "Family Guy" star Mike Henry also tweeted that he will no longer play the character of Cleveland Brown. "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," Henry said on Twitter on Friday.
One of Peter Griffin's best friends, Brown has been a consistent presence on "Family Guy" since it began in 1999. The character even had his own spin-off series, "The Cleveland Show," that aired on FOX from 2009 to 2013. The 54-year-old actor voices a number of other characters on "Family Guy," including Herbert, Bruce, and Consuela, a Latina maid.
The dual announcements come on the heels as other white actors have stepped down from voicing minority characters. On Wednesday, Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate separately announced that they would no longer be voicing biracial cartoon characters, acknowledging white privilege had allowed them to take such roles.