In a big shift, the producers of The Simpsons say they’ll no longer use white actors to play characters of color on the long-running animated series. Additionally, one of the principal voice actors on Family Guy says he’ll stop playing the show’s main Black character.
“Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have White actors voice non-White characters,” the show said in a statement Friday.
Mike Henry, who has been with Family Guy since its beginnings, wrote on Twitter Friday that he’ll stop voicing Cleveland Brown on the show.
“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry wrote. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
Fox and Family Guy producer 20th Century Fox TV declined comment. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to reps for creator Seth MacFarlane. (MacFarlane retweeted Henry’s statement on Friday.)
The decisions by The Simpsons and Henry follow recent moves by Netflix’s Big Mouth and Apple’s Central Park to recast mixed-race characters with Black or biracial actors, as the industry continues to reckon with its history of inclusivity (or lack thereof). Jenny Slate has played Missy on Big Mouth to date, and Kristen Bell voiced Molly on Central Park.
The move by The Simpsons represents a major shift for the show, which for years resisted calls that a South Asian actor take over the role of Apu from Hank Azaria (the character is the subject of The Problem With Apu, a 2017 documentary by comedian Hari Kondabolu). Azaria has since stopped voicing Apu.
Azaria also voices Carl Carlson and Springfield police officer Lou, who are Black, and Hispanic character Bumblebee Man. Harry Shearer, meanwhile, has played Dr. Hibbert, who’s Black, for the show’s entire run. Tress MacNeille has also voiced several non-White characters, including Apu’s wife, Manjula.
Henry was billed as a guest star for the first few seasons of Family Guy but has been a regular on the series since 2006. He’s also written for the show and co-created and starred in spinoff The Cleveland Show, which ran for four seasons. Henry also provides the voice for another Black character, Cleveland’s stepson Rallo Tubbs, who was a Cleveland Show regular and appears occasionally on Family Guy.
Alison Brie voiced the Vietnamese American character Diane Nguyen on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. That show’s creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, wrote on Twitter about his regrets over the decision, saying he intended to “write AWAY from stereotypes and create an Asian American character who wasn’t defined solely by her race. But I went too far in the other direction.”
On Friday, Brie posted an apology on Instagram for voicing the character, writing “I now understand that people of color, should always voice people of color. We missed a great opportunity to represent the Vietnamese-American community accurately and respectfully, and for that I am truly sorry.”