More than a year after relinquishing the role of “The Simpsons” character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, actor Hank Azaria is grappling with how to adequately make amends for the literal and figurative roles he played in perpetuating a negative stereotype.
“I really do apologize,” Azaria said, during Monday’s episode of “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard.”
For the unacquainted, Apu is an Indian-American character with a thick accent, who operates the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store in the fictional town of Springfield. Azaria, who is white, had voiced the character since its 1990 debut.
Azaria abandoned the role of the animated series’ long-running character in January 2020, three years after Brooklyn comedian Hari Kondabolu released his documentary, “The Problem with Apu.” In the film, Kondabolu argued Apu’s accent, profession, arranged marriage and large family all reinforced negative stereotypes, The Washington Post reported.
“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,” Azaria said during the podcast.
He also explained that he took several seminars and a substantial amount of time to understand why the character is “problematic” before stepping away, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Azaria said a 17-year-old at his son’s school, who had never actually watched the show, offered one of the most emotional interactions during that self-evaluation period.
“(Apu is) 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,” Azaria recalled, noting the boy, “with tears in his eyes,” asked the actor to tell Hollywood writers what they do matters and impacts people’s lives, THR reported.
“It’s not about congratulating me for the response because I’m a big part in creating the problem to begin with. So, nothing takes that away except maybe an amends over time which I am attempting to make,” Azaria said of Kondabolu’s praise for the actor’s change of heart.
Azaria still voices several “Simpsons” characters including bar owner Moe Szyslak and Chief Wiggum, but he has become a major proponent for casting actors of color to voice characters of color, CNN reported.
In 2020, Black actor Alex Désert took over from Azaria as the voice of “Simpsons” Black character Carl Carlson, the network reported.