Dr. Julius Hibbert, Springfield’s resident doctor, has been played by white actor Harry Shearer for over 20 years, but his run as the character is coming to an end. The Simpsons has confirmed that the recent Mrs. Krabappel tribute episode “Diary Queen” will be Shearer’s final voice appearance as Dr. Hibbert, and a new actor will take over for the Sunday, February 28 episode of the Fox show. The actor, however, will still very much be a part of The Simpsons‘ voice cast, as he is also the man behind characters like Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner and Ned Flanders.
Taking over as Dr. Hibbert is Black actor Kevin Michael Richardson, the Mortal Kombat actor and Emmy nominee (for F is for Family) who has provided voices for minor character on The Simpsons since 2009. The voice actor also plays Jerome on Family Guy, Principal Lewis on American Dad, and Groot on the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series.
This change in casting comes eight months after a statement from Fox’s senior VP of corporate communications Lee Eisner, which read, “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.” This came in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests over police violence, and also saw shows like Big Mouth and Family Guy replacing white actors who voiced characters of color with actors of color.
Shearer had previously expressed some skepticism about this change, telling the U.K.’s Times Radio: “I think there’s a conflation between representation, which is important. People from all backgrounds should be represented in the writing and producing ends of the business so they help decide what stories to tell and with what knowledge. Performance… is playing the part you are not.”
Dr. Hibbert is not the first character on the show to be replaced. At the start of the current season of the long-running animated series, Better Things star Alex Desert took over the role of Carl Carlson from Hank Azaria. Desert is also the new voice of Azaria’s other Black character, Officer Lou.
Two episodes later, in Season 32, Episode 3, Azaria was also replaced as the voice for the Latino character Bumblebee Man. Taking on the role was Cuban-born Eric Lopez, who last year did a number of voices for the video games Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Final Fantasy VII remake.
New voice actors for a number of smaller characters have yet to be announced. These include Dr. Julius’ own wife Bernice, who is technically still voiced by Tress MacNeille—though the character has not had any lines on the show since 2019.
A controversial non-white character, however, is also yet to be recast. Azaria is still the actor voicing Dr. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian Kwik-E-Mart operator. However, the character has not spoken on the show since 2017. The retirement of the character’s voice came shortly after the release of The Problem with Apu, Hari Kondablu’s documentary highlighting the racist tropes that informed the character. Though the show is still reportedly looking for an actor to cast in the role, to many it is a character with much bigger problems than the fact he is voiced by a white person.
The Simpsons Season 32 continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT on Fox. Episodes stream on Hulu shortly after airing. Previous seasons stream on Disney+.