Following a pledge made in June that “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters”, The Simpsons has announced that its 32nd season premiere will see Alex Désert – previously known for Boy Meets World and The Flash – join the cast as the new voice of Carl Carlson.
The Changing Face Of Cartoons
This reflects a broader shift in the animation industry towards casting choices becoming more racially conscious. The past year has seen Family Guy, Big Mouth, and Central Park recast characters for similar reasons, with Mike Henry – who voiced Family Guy’s tactfully named Cleveland Brown for 20 years – stating “persons of color should play characters of color”. Similarly, Alison Brie apologised for having voiced Vietnamese-American character Diane Ngyuen in BoJack Horseman, offering the similar sentiment “I now understand that people of color, should always voice people of color.”
However, it was The Simpsons, still one of the biggest animation properties out there, who were first to be criticised for having minority roles voiced by white actors – most notably by Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, which examined Hank Azaria voicing Indian character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the context of the long and sordid history of white actors smearing themselves with boot polish and putting on bad accents. The show offered a fairly tone-deaf defence regarding changing societal standards in a 2018 episode before Azaria quietly stepped down from the role.
What Now For Carl?
With no confirmation given, the Hollywood Reporter wondered whether Désert would continue in the role of Carl beyond the season premiere. A more salient question, though, is whether Désert will also be voicing all the show’s other black characters – such as Lou and Dr. Hibbert – for whom being voiced by Azaria and Harry Shearer is no longer defensible. Azaria and Shearer perform literally dozens of voices on The Simpsons, and as such it would be somewhat against the spirit of the thing to call in a black actor like Désert to only do one voice.
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