Hank Azaria says stepping away from voicing Apu 'feels like the right thing to do'
"I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new."
Hank Azaria has been voicing the character of Apu on The Simpsons since he first appeared on the show in 1990. The voice, Azaria's said in the past, was based on the Indian and Pakistani convenience store owners he'd run into when he first moved to L.A., as well as Peter Sellers' character of Hrundi from the 1968 film The Party. But much like Sellers' caricature — a role which saw him wear brownface and has been called out many times for its racist portrayal of a South Asian man — Azaria's portrayal has come under fire for being culturally insensitive.
"That's a white guy making fun of me," Hari Kondabolu, a comedian and podcaster told q. It bothered Kondabolu so much that he made a documentary, The Problem with Apu, that dealt with the Simpsons character but also the larger issue of representation of Indian and South Asian people in television and film.
The Simpsons eventually tried to address the issue, but more or less shrugged their shoulders and said, "what can you do?"
That response wasn't good enough for their audience, and it wasn't good enough for Azaria. "That's certainly not the way I feel about it, and that's definitely not the message that I want to send," he told Stephen Colbert last night before saying that he thinks walking away from doing the character is "the right thing to do."
"Anybody, young or old, past or present, that was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad," he said. "It certainly wasn't my intention. I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character and the idea that it's brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize anybody, it's upsetting, genuinely."
He said that he was shocked the first time he heard his portrayal was offensive, but that now his "eyes have been opened." He also expressed his hope that the show listens to the South Asian community in dealing with the problem, and stressed the need for greater representation in Hollywood, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
"As you know, in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers' room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the room. Not in a token way, but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced," he said. "I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that's what The Simpsons does. It not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do to me."
Even if the show has yet to properly deal with Apu, Azaria's comments seem to be a step in the right direction.
Thank you, <a href="https://twitter.com/HankAzaria?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HankAzaria</a>. I appreciate what you said & how you said it. <a href="https://t.co/Otmxygf3DP">https://t.co/Otmxygf3DP</a>—@harikondabolu