The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has spoken out about the show’s decision to recast its non-white roles, following allegations of racial stereotyping in recent years.
On Tuesday it was announced the character of Dr. Hibbert, voiced by white actor Harry Shearer, has been replaced by black actor Kevin Michael Richardson.
Cartoonist Matt, 67, said while he didn’t have a problem with white actors playing non-white characters in The Simpsons, he accepts that time has changed since the show launched in 1989.
Speaking out: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has spoken out about the show’s decision to recast its non-white roles, following allegations of racial stereotyping (pictured 2014)
In a rare interview with BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, Matt said: ‘I think it’s great, 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.’
Asked whether he believes the controversy raised awareness of the need for more diversity in writers rooms, he said: ‘I absolutely agree with that. And we’re trying to make it better.
‘Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it’s good to finally go for more equality and representation.’
Casting change: On Tuesday it was announced the character of Dr. Hibbert, voiced by white actor Harry Shearer, has been replaced by black actor Kevin Michael Richardson
The show’s response in 2018 was subject to a lot of criticism, when, within an episode, Lisa Simpson appeared to look into the camera and say: ‘Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect.
‘What can you do?’
After the backlash, The Simpsons announced it would be re-casting its non-white roles.
From the old to the new: The role was previously voiced by Harry (left), and will now be voiced by Kevin (right)
Asked whether he regrets how they handled it, Matt said: ‘At a certain point it doesn’t matter what you say. You’re going to be attacked by whoever, you know? Honestly, that doesn’t affect me at all.
‘We’re not going out of our way to comfort bigots. On the other hand, if you do any kind of gesture and people perceive a weakness, you’ll be criticised.’
It comes after it was reported that the longest-running animated series in television history is joining the list of titles making more racially sensitive casting decisions.
Moves forward: Veteran actor Harry has provided his voice to the character of Hibbert since The Simpsons’ second season way back in 1990
The Wrap state Hibbert will now be voiced by black actor Kevin, 56, who has provided vocals for several roles in the show before, along with Family Guy, American Dad! and countless other titles.
Harry, 77, meanwhile will continue to voice his many other characters on The Simpsons, including Mr Burns and Smithers, Ned Flanders and Kent Brockman.
A statement from 20th Century Fox read: ‘Last night’s episode DiaryQueen featured Harry Shearer as the voice of Dr. Hibbert for the last time…
‘Next Sunday’s episode Wad Goals will have Kevin Michael Richardson voicing Dr. Hibbert — and from there on out he will voice the character.’
Veteran actor Harry has provided his voice to the character of Hibbert since The Simpsons’ second season way back in 1990, while Kevin has been voicing various roles on the show since 2009.
In 2013, Kevin was asked if he ever feels that he is typecast because of his voice, to which he said: ‘Sometimes, from what I’ve done, people want similar sounds relative to those characters. What I admire are people who cast me for range…
Changing role: Hank Azaria made the decision to stop voicing the Indian-American character of Apu on The Simpsons, last playing the role in 2017
‘Knowing that I can do highs and lows and stuff like that, like when I was Cleveland Jr. and Barney Rubble, that’s pretty cool. To not be set in one specific area is nice. It’s nice to know that people are aware of what I can do.’
The move to replace Harry mirrors several other similar decisions in the past year, especially in light of renewed attention paid to racial biases and white privilege thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Last July, Kristen Bell stepped down from playing the role of Molly on the Apple TV+ animated series Central Park, also stemming from concerns over representation.
Bell announced via social media that she was stepping down from voicing the character, with a frank and candid statement on her Instagram.
‘Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience,’ she wrote at the time.
‘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,’ she also said.
Starring role: Harry, 77, meanwhile will continue to voice his many other characters on The Simpsons, including Mr Burns and Smithers, Ned Flanders and Kent Brockman
Also last summer, Family Guy’s Mike Henry announced he was stepping away from voicing the black character Cleveland Brown.
Elsewhere, Hank Azaria made the decision to stop voicing the Indian-American character of Apu on The Simpsons, last playing the role in 2017.
The casting move comes after Fox made a brief statement on the matter last June: ‘Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice nonwhite characters.’
Accomplished voice performer: Kevin, 56, has been voicing various roles on The Simpsons since 2009, along with countless other titles; seen in 2019