Hank Azaria says he will stop voicing Apu on "The Simpsons" so a South Asian actor can take the role, and it's about time
The voice behind The Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has just spoken out about the controversy surrounding the character, and not only is he willing to step aside to let someone else voice the character, he also called for more representation in the writer’s room. Last night, Hank Azaria appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he was asked his thoughts on the Simpsons’ controversy.
Saying that he’s “given this a lot of thought,” the actor revealed that he hopes the show decides to recast the role. Azaria said he’s “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.”
The long-running show’s depiction of Apu, the Indian proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mark convenience store voiced by a white man (Azaria), has been at the center of controversy due to the overtly racist stereotypical traits attributed to the character, including a an over-the-top Indian accent. Last year, comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary with TruTV called The Problem with Apu, detailing how the racist depiction of Apu has been harmful for South Asians. The documentary sparked a renewed interest in the controversy, which went largely ignored until recently.
Azaria also spoke out about The Simpsons‘ less than stellar response to the controversy, which was overall dismissive of the criticisms of Apu. In the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” Marge and Lisa — who has generally been the progressive champion of the series — discuss a beloved bedtime story that Marge realizes is full of racist stereotypes. When the two talk about what to do going forward, Marge laments, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date.” With a framed photo of Apu next to her, Lisa responds staring at the camera, “If at all.”
Azaria told Colbert that the scene was a later addition to the episode and that he saw the scene alongside the rest of the country, adding that it’s not a response he agrees with. He said, “I think that if anybody came away from that segment feeling that they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin or toughen up — yeah, that’s certainly not the way I feel about it and that’s definitely not the message that I want to send.”
Admitting that the criticism was shocking at first, Azaria told Colbert that his “eyes have been opened.” Commenting on the show’s handling of the critiques, Azaria said that it’s important for The Simpsons to listen the criticisms and stories of how Apu has negatively affected South Asian people, adding that he feels the writers’ room needs to be more inclusive to help shift the character’s narrative in a better direction.
After Azaria’s appearance on the late night talk show, Kondabolu took to Twitter to thank the actor for his words.
Azaria, who has been with the series since Season 2, also voices a number of other characters, including Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, and Professor Frink. If the actor, who has won four Emmys for his voice work on The Simpsons, is willing to step aside, now might be the perfect time.