After more than 30 years playing Dr Julius Hibbert on The Simpsons, Harry Shearer will be replaced by voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson – seven months after the show’s producers committed to no longer have white actors voicing black characters.
On Monday, Fox confirmed the episode that aired last night in the United States, Dairy Queen, would be Shearer’s last as Hibbert. From Sunday, the doctor will be played by Richardson instead. Shearer will continue voicing his other characters, which include Mr Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy.
The Simpsons’ commitment in June came amid the renewed Black Lives Matter movement and the associated racial reckoning in the media, pop culture and beyond. It followed white voice actors including Mike Henry (Cleveland Brown) of Family Guy, Kristen Bell (Molly Tillerman) of Central Park and Jenny Slate (Missy) of Big Mouth stepping down from their roles playing people of colour.
Earlier last year, Hank Azaria said he would no longer play the character of Indian convenience store owner Apu, following years of public pressure. “I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” Azaria told Stephen Colbert at the time. Azaria had also played Homer’s black workmate Carl Carlson, before being replaced in that role by Alex Désert in September.
Richardson’s voice credits include playing Lois’s ex-boyfriend Jerome on Family Guy, and Cleveland Brown Jr on the Cleveland Show. He currently plays Principal Brian Lewis on American Dad, and has already appeared on the Simpsons as a variety of characters, including a Nigerian king (The Princess Guy), Jay G (The Great Phatsby), and Burns’ cellmate (American History X-Cellent). He was nominated for a 2019 Primetime Emmy for voicing Rosie on Netflix’s F Is For Family.
Fox’s announcement of Hibbert’s recasting comes a day after another beloved family series, The Muppet Show, added a disclaimer to 18 of its episodes warning of “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures” throughout the series.
That move was part of Disney’s “Stories Matter” initiative, launched to improve representation in its output, which has seen the same disclaimer added to films including Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Dumbo and Swiss Family Robinson.