Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Simpsons' Harry Shearer doesn't agree that white actors can't play non-white characters

Harry Shearer
Harry Shearer
Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Tribeca Film Festival (Getty Images)

Back at the end of June, the cartoon industry faced a bit of a reckoning with the number of white actors playing non-white characters. Jenny Slate stepped down from Big Mouth, Kristen Bell moved over to a different role on Central Park, and then Mike Henry decided to stop playing Cleveland on Family Guy and The Simpsons announced that white actors would no longer be playing non-white characters across the board—which is going to leave some big gaps that The Simpsons needs to figure out how to fill, since white actors have voiced nearly the entire population of Springfield for 30 years.

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As it turns out, though, one of those white actors doesn’t completely agree with this idea. Speaking with Times Radio (via Deadline), Harry Shearer—who plays a ton of Simpsons characters, though the relevant one here is Dr. Hibbert—said that he believes an actor’s job “is to play someone who they’re not,” and that’s it. Everything else is some other person’s job, whether it’s a writer or a producer. He wouldn’t offer an opinion on whether or not he thinks the new role is a mistake, but Shearer does say that he disagrees with the “conflation” between representation and performance. He says “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,” but the actor is just there to act and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for diverse representation.

This all comes a few years after The Simpsons responded to the mounting controversy surrounding Apu by quietly relegating the character to backgrounds after previously offering half-hearted meta-acknowledgements. We still don’t know how the show will handle this change for non-white characters, but it’s going to require something a little more thoughtful than just Dr. Hibbert, Bumblebee Man, Lou, and Judge Snyder never speaking again.

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