‘The Simpsons’ actor Hank Azaria apologise to every Indian for his controversial depiction of ‘Apu’
Hank Azaria, the actor who voiced Apu, has apologised to "every single Indian citizen" for his controversial depiction of the Indian character nearly 30 years after the show first aired.
Hank Azaria, the actor who voiced Apu, has apologised to "every single Indian citizen" for his controversial depiction of the Indian character nearly 30 years after the show first aired. Speaking on the Armchair Expert podcast, hosted by actor Dax Shepard and Indian-American actress Monica Padman, Azaria revealed that, while he wanted to believe the show's concept had the best motives, it contributed to "structural racism" in the United States. “I sincerely apologise for my role in developing and participating in that,” he said. “A part of me feels that I should apologise to every single Indian citizen in this country.”
Although Azaria has voiced the Indian character since the show's inception in 1989, he stepped down in January 2020 in the face of racial stereotyping criticism. “I just didn't know any better,” he admitted. “I didn't consider it. I had no idea how much of a relative advantage I had in this country as a white kid from Queens.”
Criticism of Azaria's depiction erupted in the aftermath of the 2017 documentary "The Problem with Apu," directed by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. In this documentary on how Western culture portrays Asian cultures, Indian-origin actors and comedians like Kal Penn and Aziz Ansari discussed how Apu's dialect and demeanour were often used to bully them or perpetuate problematic stereotypes. Following the release of this film, even Priyanka Chopra, referred to Apu as the "bane of my life growing up," opening up about how the racially insensitive character misrepresented Indians all over the world.
This compelled The Simpsons to examine their questionable representation of minorities, which resulted in the release of an episode titled "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," in which Marge Simpson learns that an old fairytale book she read as a child is now problematic. Something which was welcomed and inoffensive decades ago has become politically incorrect. “What can you do?” Lisa Simpson exclaimed at the end of the episode, before turning to face a framed picture of Apu with the caption, “Don't have a cow, man!”
Despite criticism, show creator Matt Groening has confirmed that the producers decide to continue Apu on the show, although with a new actor as Azaria has stepped down. Since the height of the controversy, Apu has only acted in a small capacity, and no new voice actor has been cast to play the role. It's uncertain when Apu will return to The Simpsons.
Another big recasting of The Simpsons occurred earlier this season. After Harry Shearer voiced Dr Julius Hibbert since the beginning of the season, Kevin Michael Richardson has since taken his place, and his first appearance as the character was heard in a recent episode. You can listen to the full interview on the Armchair Expert podcast to learn more about the Apu controversy from Azaria's perspective.