Back in 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu made an extremely thoughtful and reasoned documentary titled The Problem With Apu, pointing out that the Indian-American character Apu (voiced by American actor Hank Azaria, who is of Sephardic Jewish descent) is a harmful racial stereotype that The Simpsons has been happily perpetuating for literal decades. In fact, Kondabolu goes so far as to call Apu a minstrel character, and it’s hard to disagree with him. It seems like the show has finally decided to listen, and from now on will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.
As reported by Variety, the decision was made shortly after actor Mike Henry announced he would no longer be voicing Cleveland Brown on the animated sitcom Family Guy. Earlier this week, Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate decided to step away from their respective roles on Central Park and Big Mouth as mixed-race characters, which no doubt played a part in The Simpsons finally deciding to end the controversial practice of using white actors to portray POC characters. (Azaria himself announced he would no longer voice Apu back in January.)
Obviously this is the right move for these shows to make, especially for one as massively popular and influential as The Simpsons. However, it’s quite literally the bare minimum. Azaria and Henry voiced their respective characters for decades, with Henry even voicing the Black character Cleveland on the Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show. Perhaps these showrunners should go a step further and examine why they normalized this practice for so long. The Simpsons was particularly shitty about the Apu controversy in the 2018 episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”, in which Marge and Lisa make an indirect reference to the character and say, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” That frustratingly smug response aired just two years ago, so while it’s nice they’re finally addressing the problem like adults, it’s hard to praise them after giving an Indian character a racist-as-hell voice for 30 damn years.