Hank Azaria stepped down from voicing controversial “The Simpsons” character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon last year. The voice actor recently opened up about the lessons he learned about whitewashing and promoting stereotypes during a recent interview on the “Armchair Expert” podcast.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Azaria, who is white, stated that he participated in several seminars to understand the controversy surrounding the character and offered several anecdotes that helped inform his decision to quit voicing the character.
“I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “A 17-year-old […] he’s never even seen ‘The Simpsons’ but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
Apu, an Indian immigrant character in the show who runs a Kwik-E-Mart business, has long been a source of controversy due to the stereotypical depictions of the character. The criticisms of Apu reached a peak following the release of comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 “The Problem With Apu” documentary, which outlined the show’s various negative stereotypes and treatment of Apu.
Azaria noted that one boy, “with tears in his eyes,” told the actor that to “tell Hollywood writers what they do matters and has ramifications on people’s lives.”
“I really do apologize,” Azaria said. “It’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do.”
As for Apu, series creator Matt Groening recently discussed the character in an interview with USA Today and noted that the show’s teams had “ambitious” plans for the character but did not offer specifics. Groening told USA Today that he understood the importance of promoting diversity on the show and was in favor of being more inclusive.
“Who can be against diversity? So it’s great. However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters,” Groening said in the interview. “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, do multiple voices. That’s part of the fun of animation, However, to be more inclusive and hire more people, I’m completely in favor of that.”