The Simpsons’ creator has said there are “ambitious” plans for Apu – the Indian character who was sidelined over criticism that he was voiced by a white actor and was a harmful stereotype.
As a result, the long-running show said white actors would no longer provide the voices of non-white characters.
Matt Groening has told USA Today he is still “proud” of the character, the immigrant owner of the Kwik-E-Mart.
But he will be absent from Springfield until a suitable new actor is found.
“We’ve got plans for Apu, but we have to see if we can make the stories work,” said Groening. “We’re working on something kind of ambitious. That’s all I can say.”
The cartoonist, who brought The Simpsons to screens in 1989, described the “fantastic” character as “one of the most nuanced characters on a silly two-dimensional cartoon show”.
He added that while ending the use of white actors for non-white characters was not his idea, he was “fine with it”.
“Who can be against diversity?” he asked. “So it’s great. However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters.
“They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of. To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices. That’s part of the fun of animation, However, to be more inclusive and hire more people, I’m completely in favour of that.”
A backlash was prompted by a 2017 documentary called The Problem With Apu. Last January, actor Hank Azaria said he would no longer voice the character, who has barely featured in the programme for several years.
The show has spent the past year re-casting other non-white roles, including Homer Simpson’s workmate Carl Carlson and Dr Hibbert.
“Times change,” Groening told BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat last month. “But I actually didn’t have a problem with the way we were doing it.
“All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone.”