'The Simpsons' creator says casting white actors in non-white roles was not meant 'to exclude'

Matt Groening, creator of the animated series
Matt Groening, creator of the animated series "The Simpsons," poses with his character creations Bart Simpson, left, and Homer Simpson after he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has said white actors voicing non-white characters on the long-running series was not meant "to exclude".

The animated sitcom attracted controversy for having Hank Azaria play Indian Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, with Azaria formally stepping down last year.

Fox later announced the show, which has been on fire since 1989, will no longer feature white actors voicing non-white characters.

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Groening told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat: “Times change, but I actually didn’t have a problem with the way we were doing it.

Hank Azaria stepped down from voicing Apu. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Hank Azaria stepped down from voicing Apu. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

“All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone.”

He added: “Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it’s good to finally go for more equality and representation.”

This week saw the last episode featuring white voice actor Harry Shearer playing Black character Dr Hibbert air in the US as he will now be voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson.

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Fox has said the actor, who has appeared on animated shows, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad, will make his debut in the upcoming season 32 episode Wad Goals.

The 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu saw comedian Hari Kondabolu explore the issues with the Indian character, suggesting it perpetuated stereotypes of South Asians.

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The show addressed the criticisms back in 2018 but that also received a backlash.

In the episode, Lisa broke the fourth wall as she said: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

Apu in The Simpsons (Credit: Fox)
Apu in The Simpsons (Credit: Fox)

She then looked at a picture of Apu on her bedside table that was inscribed with Bart’s catchphrase, “don’t have a cow”.

Marge added, “some things will be dealt with at a later date,” while Lisa replied “If at all”.

Other animated shows have also made similar steps by recasting roles, as Netflix series Big Mouth and Apple's Central Park replaced white actors Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell who both were voicing mixed-race characters.

Emmy Raver-Lampman was announced as Bell's replacement while Ayo Edebiri took over from Slate from the show's fourth season.

With additional reporting by PA.