The Simpsons has been entertaining generations for the last 30+ years and has hardly changed much in that time, but over the past year the show’s producers have decided to refresh the series’ long-running voice cast as part of a move towards better representation.
For instance, season 32 has seen the various African-American residents of Springfield finally voiced by actors of color, with Kevin Michael Richardson and Alex Desert stepping into the iconic roles of Dr. Hibbert and Carl Carlson. Meanwhile, a recent episode – March’s “Uncut Femmes” – contained another major milestone. As Pride.com has pointed out, it saw actor Tony Rodriguez added to the cast in the part of beloved character Julio, who’s been around since season 14 and is one of the few recurring LGBTQ+ figures on the show. He’s traditionally been played by Hank Azaria, but now Rodriguez – who’s gay and of Cuban-American descent – has replaced him.
The Simpsons‘ sketchy history of queer representation was highlighted by “Smithers & Beyond: Every LGBTQ Joke On The Simpsons Ever,” a two-and-a-half supercut compiled by Drew Mackie of The Gayest Episode Ever podcast. Director Matt Selman confirmed on Twitter that Mackie’s work had a direct effect on the producers’ decision to hire Rodriguez as well, as you can see below.
the every gay joke ever on the Simpsons video definitely had a hand in this magic coming together
— Matt Selman (@mattselman) March 28, 2021
Of course, another major recent change was Azaria stepping down as the voice of Apu, though he’s yet to be replaced. The general reaction to these cast alterations has been positive, but star Harry Shearer has criticized the move and defended his right to voice non-white characters. Likewise, creator Matt Groening has admitted that he was fine with the way things were, although he does support the push towards greater diversity.
The Simpsons was renewed last month for a further two runs, which takes the show through at least season 34 in 2023. New episodes air Sundays on FOX.