“As far as what’s going to happen with the character going forward, it’s really not just up to me,” Azaria said. “I know that ‘The Simpsons’ guys are doing that too, they’re giving it a lot of thought and we’ve discussed a little bit. They will definitely address, maybe publicly, certainly creatively within the context of the show what they want to do, if anything, with the character.”
Apu’s wife Manjula has been voiced by a series of white actresses: Jan Hooks, Tress MacNeille, and Maggie Roswell.
In a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, the few human regular characters stand out even more. While Todd Sanchez is voiced by Aaron Paul, not much is known about his heritage on the show. Meanwhile with Vietnamese-American ghostwriter Diane Nguyen, the inability to pronounce her last name — the most common Vietnamese surname — is a recurring joke early on, and it seems rather silly to hire someone to voice the character who can’t actually pronounce it correctly. Not much else about Diane’s heritage has been addressed on the show: An episode in which we meet her family also casts white actors — Melissa Leo, Mike O’Malley, and Patton Oswalt — for the voice work.
Recently on Twitter, “BoJack” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg addressed one fan asking if he had thought about casting an Asian actor for the role or if he had an Asians in the writers’ room.
“Short answer: I love my entire cast, but if I were doing it today, I would not cast the show (or any show) with all white people,” he replied. “I’ve really soured on the idea of ‘color-blind’ casting as an excuse to not pay attention.
“Twitter feels like a bad place to get into a nuanced conversation about this, but I’d be happy to discuss further in an interview if asked. Almost nobody does ask — possibly because most interviewers are fans of the show who don’t want to upset me (and they’re mostly white too).”
IndieWire did indeed speak to Bob-Waksberg. Read the interview here.
Cleveland Orenthal Brown, Sr. is a black character who was introduced as one of Peter Griffin’s friends on “Family Guy” and then spun off into his own show, “The Cleveland Show.” Mike Henry created the character and has voiced him the entire time. It should be noted that Cleveland’s family members are voiced by people of color.
Hank Hill’s neighbor from Laos didn’t even get the courtesy of a real last name. Instead, it’s a play off of “sousaphone.” Kahn’s family members were all voiced by Asian American actors: wife Minh and daughter Connie (Lauren Tom), cousin Tid Pao (Lucy Liu), mother Laoma (Amy Hill), and General Gum (James Sie).
Dr. Julius M. Hibbert was originally supposed to be a woman: Dr. Julia Hibbert, voiced by Julia Sweeney (Hibbert was her married last name at the time). Since “The Simpsons” has had such a long life on TV, it once went up against “The Cosby Show,” at which point the design changed to parody Bill Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable character.
Although Rick’s last name is “Sanchez,” nothing really much has been made of Rick’s heritage at all. In the past, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have dodged the question by trotting out the excuse, “We don’t see race, we don’t see color, we just see people.”
Writer Jessica Gao had written Dr. Wong in the “Pickle Rick” episode expressly for an Asian American actress to voice. When Susan Sarandon became available though, she got the role with name intact.
Marshmallow is a black transgender woman and sex worker who has been befriended by Bob Belcher. She’s voiced by Dan Herman, who also voices Mr. Frond and is perhaps most familiar as Michael Bolton from “Office Space.”
Carlton “Carl” Carlson is often seen with his best friend and co-worker Lenny. They work with Homer Simpson at the nuclear power plant. Carl is an Icelandic African American, and has referred to himself as an “urban Lenny.”
With character names like Aang, Katara, Naga, Asami Sato, Lin Beefing, and Mako, there’s a clear Asian influence to the world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and its sequel, “The Legend of Korra.” The cast ,however, is predominantly white: Dee Bradley Baker, Mae Whitman, Janet Varney, David Faustino, J.K. Simmons, Kieran Shipka, and Mindy Sterling, to name a few.
Most of the characters’ designs are also distinctly non-Caucasian as well, which is why M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action “Avatar” was criticized for its mainly white casting.
A loose parody of El Chapulín Colorado, a character portrayed by Mexican comedian Chespirito (Roberto Gómez Bolaños), Bumblebee Man is the star of a Mexican Spanish-language sitcom on Channel Ocho. Dressed in a bee costume, he speaks rather simple and occasionally inaccurate Spanish.
Image: FOX/David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock
Image: Netflix, Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock