After more than 30 years, Harry Shearer will no longer be the voice of the popular “The Simpsons” character Dr. Julius Hibbert. Shearer is being replaced by Kevin Michael Richardson, seven months after the show’s producers announced that the long-running animated series, which is broadcast on FOX Network, would no longer use white actors to voice non-white characters.
Richardson is best known for his voice work on “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” He has already been in 70 episodes of “The Simpsons” playing other characters. He’ll take over as Dr. Hibbert in a new episode, “Wad Goals,” set to air on FOX this Sunday, Feb. 28.
But Shearer is staying on “The Simpsons” cast and will continue to voice several other characters on the show, including Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Reverend Lovejoy and Principal Skinner. His last episode as Dr. Hibbert was “Dairy Queen, ” which aired on Sunday, Feb. 21. Here’s a Twitter post promoting that episode with its unique intro:
— TheSimpsons (@TheSimpsons) February 22, 2021
Previously, Shearer pushed back against the decision to recast characters. During an interview with The Times in August 2020, he 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 stressed that his view wasn’t financially motivated, explaining, “We don’t get paid by the voice.”
The show’s decision to stop using white actors to voice Black characters came after years of criticism about Indian convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, including the fact that white actor Hank Azaria provided the voice for him. In early 2020, Azaria told the website /Film that he was stepping down from the role, which he’d played since the character of Apu was created in 1990.
“All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s some way to transition it or something,” he said. “We all made the decision together. We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing.”
In June 2020, producers said in a short statement, “Moving forward, ‘The Simpsons’ will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”
Alex Désert now plays Homer’s Black co-worker Carl Carlson, who was formerly played by Hank Azaria. Jenny Yokobori now plays Comic Book Guy’s Japanese wife, Kumiko Albertson, who was previously voiced by Tress MacNeille. Apu has not yet been recast.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd, the entertainment industry has been under increasing pressure to provide equal opportunities for non-white actors in television shows and movies.