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The Simpsons television show has made a commitment to anti-racism and social justice by vowing to never have white actors play anything other than white roles. In a statement, The Simpsons producers wrote "Moving forward, 'The Simpsons' will no longer have white actors voice nonwhite characters."
This prohibition against actors playing across racial lines is thus far limited to white actors playing roles of other races, and not the reverse. More studios, shows, and production companies are likely to fall in line with these new, race specific hiring directives.
This change has been coming down the pike since Hank Azaria, voice of Apu on the show, among other characters, decided to stop voicing the character. Azaria stepped down from his role in January.
According to The New York Times, actresses Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell have both said they will no longer be voicing bi-racial characters on Netflix’s "Big Mouth" and Apple TV Plus series "Central Park", respectively.
Slate released her statement on Instagram, saying that "black characters on an animated show should be played by black people. I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing 'Missy', I was engaging in an act of erasure of black people. Ending my portrayal of 'Missy' is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions."
Kristen Bell released a statement from the producers as to her reasons for leaving. Her comment on the post reads: "This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege.
"Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and black American experience. It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion."
Just this week, actor Mike Henry left his role as the voice of Cleveland on the animated series Family Guy. He had played the role for 20 years.
Henry wrote: "It's been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but person of colour should play characters of colour. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role."
The American theatre industry is also moving in the direction of elevating art from non-white people, or BIPOC—black, indigenous, people of colour. Luminaries from the theatre community wrote a missive "Dear White American Theatre," which details their reasons for giving BIPOC theatre artists more access to the nations stages.
Black Hollywood celebs penned their own letter to the entertainment industry, demanding, among other things, that the studios divest from the police forces for any and all events and productions across the country. Additionally, they demand that studios provide more access to black artists.
It is unclear if these animated shows will continue to allow non-white actors to voice white roles. The removal of actors from their roles is so far against the participation of white actors only. It is also possible that white actors may be so busy doing their life-long work of anti-racism that they simply won't have time to engage in creative endeavours.