'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening talks controversy over who voices characters of color: 'Times change'

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Matt Groening speaks at San Diego's Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019. (Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
Matt Groening speaks at San Diego's Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019. (Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, is not as enthusiastic as others that white actors are no longer voicing non-white characters on the long-running animated hit. The show officially altered its policy in June, and the latest casting move came Monday when it was announced that white actor Harry Shearer would no longer play the Black character of Dr. Julius Hibbert. Black actor Kevin Michael Richardson, of Family Guy and American Dad, has taken on the role.

"Times change, but I actually didn't have a problem with the way we were doing it," Groening told the BBC. "All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone."

Criticism was especially fierce of white actor Hank Azaria voicing Indian convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, as depicted in the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu. Cast member Yeardley Smith approved of the changes, telling Yahoo Entertainment in March 2020 that "we meant no harm, but that doesn't mean you didn't cause any harm," but not everyone was on board.

Shearer himself had previously spoken against them. "The job of the actor is to play someone who they're not," he told the U.K.'s Times Radio in August 2020. "That's the gig. That's the job description."

The show addressed the subject in an April 2018 episode. Lisa, voiced by Smith, said, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"

Groening was asked in the new interview whether he regrets how the show handled the issue.

"At a certain point it doesn't matter what you say. You're going to be attacked by whoever, you know?" Groening said. "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 criticized."

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