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Harry Shearer has voiced dozens of characters on Fox’s “The Simpsons,” from Mr. Burns to Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner, but he was replaced as the voice of Springfield physician Dr. Hibbert when producers of the show vowed in 2020 to no longer have white actors voice characters of color. Shearer recently reflected on the change during an interview with The Times of London.

“Folk say the show has become woke in recent years and one of my characters has been affected,” Shearer said. “I voiced the Black physician, Dr. Hibbert, who I based on Bill Cosby. Back then he was known as the ‘whitest Black man on television.’ Then, a couple of years ago, I received an email saying they’d employed a Black actor, who then copied my voice. The result is a Black man imitating a white man imitating the whitest Black man on TV.”

Shearer appeared to question his re-casting, as he always tried to make Dr. Hibberd’s “whiteness” as a Black man part of the joke of the character since he modeled him after Cosby. The character is now voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Another Black character on the show, Homer’s friend Carl Carlson, is now voiced by Alex Désert after being originally voiced by Hank Azaria.

“The Simpsons” producers announced in 2020 that characters of color on the long-running animated sitcom would only be voiced by actors of color from now on. Prior to the announcement, the show had been subject to heavy criticism for having white actors like Azaria play characters like the Indian store owner Apu. Azaria stepped away from voicing the character in January 2020 and admitted that his voice role “helped create a dehumanizing stereotype.” The actor’s controversial casting as Apu was the subject of the 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu” from comedian Hari Kondabolu.

“The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening told USA Today in 2021 that it “was not my idea” to have white actors stop voicing characters of color, “but I’m fine with it. Who can be against diversity? So it’s great.”

“However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters,” he added at the time. “They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of. To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices, do multiple voices.”

Shearer admitted in his Times of London interview that he “wasn’t sure about joining ‘The Simpsons’ in 1989,” adding, “Voice actors are usually given a script after the animation is completed. I took the job because it was the other way around. I play more than 20 characters but the evil nuclear power plant owner, Mr. Burns, is a favorite. I styled his voice on Ronald Reagan.”

“The Simpsons” will wrap up its 35th season on May 19.



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