Longtime The Simpsons cast member Harry Shearer has spoken out about the show's June announcement that it will no longer hire white actors to voice characters of color, and it appears he isn't completely on board with the change.
When asked about The Simpsons' new approach to casting in an interview on Times Radio, Shearer said, "I have a very simple belief about acting. The job of the actor is to play someone who they are not. That's the gig, that's the job description."
Shearer, an original cast member on The Simpsons, voices a number of characters on the series, including Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Dr. Hibbert, a Black doctor. The actor insisted his opinion had nothing to do with his own salary. "We're not paid by the voice," he said.
Though he didn't directly say he disagreed with the producers' decision, Shearer went on to add, "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." He concluded, "The job is playing someone I'm not."
The Simpsons has long been called out for its treatment of characters of color. In 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu made the iconic Fox cartoon series the subject of his documentary The Problem with Apu, which did a deep dive into the show's history of enforcing stereotypical portrayals of South Asian immigrants. The documentary eventually led to actor Hank Azaria confirming he would no longer voice Apu. "All we know is I won't be doing the voice anymore, unless there's some way to transition it or something," Azaria said earlier this year. "What they're going to do with the character is their call. It's up to them and they haven't sorted it out yet. All we've agreed on is I won't do the voice anymore."
The Simpsons' announcement in June was part of a larger shift in industry-wide discussions around casting white actors to voice characters of color in animated shows. The decision came the same week Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell stepped away from playing biracial characters on Big Mouth and Apple TV+'s Central Park, respectively. Mike Henry, who voiced the Black character Cleveland Brown on the show Family Guy, also stepped away from his role.
The Simpsons returns Sunday, Sept. 27 at 8/7c on Fox.