- Hank Azaria, who voiced Apu in “The Simpsons,” wants to “personally apologize” to Indians in the US.
- Appearing on the “Armchair Expert” podcast on Monday, he said the character is “practically a slur.”
- Azaria, who is white, stepped away from the role in 2020 after 30 years voicing the character.
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Hank Azaria says he wants to apologize to every Indian in America for his racist portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian convenience-store worker, on “The Simpsons.”
During Monday’s episode of actor Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast, Azaria, who is not South Asian, opened up about voicing the controversial Indian character (who has a thick, fake Indian accent) for 30 years.
“There were very good intentions on all of our parts. We tried to do a funny, thoughtful character,” Azaria told Shepard and cohost Monica Padman. “And just because there were good intentions, it doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences that I am accountable for.”
Azaria came face-to-face with one such “real negative consequence” of Apu, he said, when he visited his son’s school a few years ago and met a 17-year-old Indian American student who knew about Apu without having watched a single episode of “The Simpsons.”
“It’s practically a slur at this point,” Azaria said of Apu’s portrayal on the podcast. “All he knows is this is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country still.”
“With tears in his eyes, he said to me, and it was so sweet the way he put it,” he continued. “‘Will you please tell the writers in Hollywood that what they do and what they come up with matters in people’s lives? Like, it has consequences?'”
“I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that,” Azaria added. “Part of me feels like I need to go on to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes, I do.”
Azaria said that it took a while for him to understand structural racism in Hollywood
Criticism surrounding Apu first gained traction with the release of “The Problem With Apu,” a 2017 documentary by Indian American comic Hari Kondabolu, which examines the stereotypical character’s negative impact on South Asian communities.
In order to avoid a “knee-jerk” reaction to the criticism, Azaria told Shepard and Padman that he took time to educate himself on his “blind spot” around Apu.
He explained that he read books, attended seminars, and spoke to Indian Americans while trying to make a decision on whether he wanted to continue to voice the convenience-store worker.
“I was unaware of how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens,” Azaria said. “I didn’t think about this stuff because I didn’t have to.”
Azaria first confirmed that he was leaving the role in an interview with /Film in January 2020. He told the publication he “won’t be doing the voice anymore unless there’s some way to transition it or something.”
His decision to leave the role came after 30 years of voicing Apu.
“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 the following month. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Azaria also voices other characters on the show, like bar owner Moe Szyslak, police officer Chief Wiggums, and Comic Book Guy.
White actors on ‘The Simpsons’ no longer voice characters who are people of color
After Azaria stepped away from voicing Apu, producers on “The Simpsons” issued a statement in June that white actors would no longer voice POC characters, Variety reported.
A few months later, actor Alex Désert replaced Azaria as the voice of Homer Simpson’s coworker and friend Carl Carlson (who is Black). Deadline reported at the time that it was unclear if Désert was a permanent replacement.
Around the same time, a number of other white actors on other animated shows (like Mike Henry, who voiced Cleveland Brown) stepped away from voicing non-white characters.
However, not everyone was thrilled with the change. Insider reporter Zac Ntim previously wrote that actor Harry Shearer, the voice of Black “Simpsons” character Dr. Hibbert, questioned the producers’ decision to stop having white actors voice non-white animated characters.
“I have a very simple belief about acting,” Shearer said during an interview with Times Radio in August. “The job of the actor is to play someone who they are not. That’s the gig, that’s the job description.”
He added that while he supports the representation of people of all ethnicities and backgrounds in the production and writing process for a show, it should not be conflated with acting performances.
As for Apu, “The Simpsons” series creator Matt Groening told USA Today in March that they have “ambitious” plans for the character despite Azaria’s departure from the role.