For 31 years, actor Harry Shearer has provided the voice of Dr. Julius Hibbert on The Simpsons. But that streak came to an end with this past Sunday’s episode, “DiaryQueen.” As promised last summer, the show’s producers have hired a Black actor to replace Shearer and voice the Black character.
Vulture reports that Harry Shearer’s tenure as Dr. Hibbert has come to an end. Starting with this coming weekend’s episode, “Wad Goals,” the character will now be voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, who voiced Goro in the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie and has since acted in hundreds of episodes of television in shows like Pinky and the Brain, Static Shock, Teen Titans, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Boondocks, and F is for Family, just to name a few. He’s also a veteran of The Simpsons, having lent his voice to characters like Anger Watkins, Jimi Hendrix, Dave Chappelle, and many more since 2009, so this is familiar territory for him. (Shearer, of course, is still involved with the series – he voices characters like Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, and more.)
After Hank Azaria stepped away from the role of convenience store owner Apu on The Simpsons last year, the producers decided to change their policy about voice actors playing certain roles. “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters,” they said. This casting switch-up is the latest example of the producers following through on that promise, however belatedly: The Hollywood Reporter points out that Richardson’s casting comes in the wake of Alex Désert being brought in to play Homer Simpson’s co-worker Carl Carlson, previously voiced by Azaria, and Jenny Yokobori taking over as Comic Book Guy’s wife, Kumiko Albertson, who was previously voiced by Tress MacNeille.
This is part of a larger, long-needed move toward accurate representation that is taking place in the world of animation. Within the past year, white actor Mike Henry walked away from the role of Black character Cleveland Brown on Family Guy (Arif Zahir ended up being cast in that role), and both Netflix’s Big Mouth and AppleTV+’s Central Park decided to switch up their casting to give people of color the opportunity to voice characters of color on those shows.
Richardson has won two Daytime Emmy nominations for his work as the Joker in The Batman, an animated series which aired in the mid-2000s. If he can win an award for embodying a character as iconic as the Joker (and one which had such a defining performance by Mark Hamill years earlier in Batman: The Animated Series), he’ll be just fine playing Dr. Hibbert on The Simpsons.
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