At the Sundance premiere of his new film “The Sunlit Night,” Zach Galifianakis says he got the role from his “old, weird friend,” actress and producer Jenny Slate. (Jan. 28)

Following nationwide protests against racism, the people behind the animated shows “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “Big Mouth” and “Central Park” are rethinking which actors should be able to voice non-white role.

In a statement to USA TODAY, a representative for Fox confirmed that, moving forward, “The Simpsons” will no longer have white actors voicing non-white characters.

Though the rep did not name which specific characters and actors will be affected by the decision, the announcement comes months after Hank Azaria stepped down as the beloved yet divisive Apu, a character criticized as promoting negative stereotypes about Indians.

“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria told The New York Times in February. “It just didn’t feel right.”

Azaria has voiced various characters in the fictional town of Springfield over the last three decades, including Moe Szyslak and Chief Wiggum, but he has become synonymous with Apu, an Indian immigrant who owns the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store and is best known for his catchphrase, “Thank you, come again.”

On Friday, voice actor Mike Henry announced on Twitter he will step down as Cleveland Brown, a role he has voiced on “Family Guy” since 1999. Henry also voiced the role on the “Family Guy” spin-off “The Cleveland Show” from 2009 to 2013.

“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” he wrote. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”

Henry also provides the voices for Brown’s son Cleveland Brown Jr., his Black stepson Rallo Tubbs and a Latina maid named Consuela.

Additionally, Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell will give up their roles on “Big Mouth” and “Central Park” respectively, saying it’s inappropriate for them to voice biracial cartoon characters.

In a lengthy Instagram statement Wednesday, Slate explained her decision to no longer voice Missy on the animated series “Big Mouth.”

“At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I,” Slate wrote. “But Missy is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”

Slate, who has voiced Missy since 2017, added that her initial reasoning for playing the part is an example of white privilege and “unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy.”

“In me playing ‘Missy,’ I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people,” she continued. “Ending my portrayal of ‘Missy’ is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions.”

The actress capped off her statement promising to hold herself accountable and to take responsibility for being “part of the problem.”

“Most importantly though, to anyone that I’ve hurt: I am so very sorry,” she wrote. “Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter.”

Slate will likely still portray Missy in Season 4 of “Big Mouth,” which premieres on Netflix this fall, as production had wrapped before Slate’s decision to step down.

In a joint statement posted to Instagram, “Big Mouth” creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett said they will honor Slate’s wishes and recast Missy with a Black actor going forward.

The creators apologized, saying they regret casting a white person for this role in the first place. 

“We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we’re working hard to do better moving forward,” they added. “We are proud of the representation Missy has offered cerebral, sensitive women of color, and we plan to continue that representation and further grow Missy’s character as we cast a new Black actor to play her.”

Bell also took to Instagram on Wednesday to announce she will no longer voice Molly in the cartoon “Central Park.”

“This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity,” Bell wrote. “Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience.”

She continued: “It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion.”

Bell also shared a statement saying that everyone at “Central Park” is committed to creating opportunities for people of color in all roles across all projects.

“Central Park” premiered on Apple TV+ this year and is airing new episodes every Friday.

USA TODAY has reached out to reps for Bell, Slate, Kroll, Goldberg, Levin and Flackett for further comment.

Contributing: Cydney Henderson


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