Hank Azaria is willing to give up his voice. The 53-year-old actor, who has voiced the Indian character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons since 1990, spoke out in a new interview after being accused in Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu of racial stereotyping.
“It’s come to my attention more and more, especially in the last couple of years, that people in the South Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization of Apu,” Azaria (who also voices Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy, among dozens of other characters on the Fox animated sitcom) said on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, April 24.
“It sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character going forward, which is not so easy to answer,” he continued. “I’ve tried to express this before — the idea that anybody who is young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad. It was certainly not my intention. I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character, and the idea that it’s brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize people, it’s upsetting.”
The Simpsons briefly addressed the controversy in its April 8 episode, in which Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) edited an antiquated book to reflect current times for her daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith). Lisa said, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” After looking at a picture of Apu in the book, Marge told her daughter, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” to which Lisa added, “If at all.”
Some critics accused the showrunners of quickly dismissing the issue, while Azaria said on Tuesday that he “had nothing to do with the writing” and saw the scene “right around the same time that everybody else in America did.”
When asked how the show should move forward with the Kwik-E-Mart proprietor, the six-time Emmy winner said, “I’ve given this a lot of thought — really a lot of thought — and, as I say, my eyes have been opened. And I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been.”
He added, “I’m 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.”
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