Back in 2017, comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem with Apu caused a long overdue reckoning with The Simpsons’ use of Hank Azaria, a white voice actor, to portrayal a stereotypical depiction of an Indian-American character. While the show and creator Matt Groenig initially handled the controversy poorly with a thinly veiled jab at the Apu documentary, eventually Azaria walked away from the character altogether in February 2020.
In an interview with the New York Times where Azaria confirmed that he’s done voicing Apu, the actor said “it just didn’t feel right.” Azaria also made it clear that he believes the conversation around Apu’s depiction on the show is necessary. “What happened with this character is a window into an important issue. It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”
While Apu’s fate on The Simpsons is still up in the air, Azaria recently revealed that he’s still doing the work on reckoning with the character’s legacy. During an appearance on Dax Shephard’s Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria opened up about the conversations he’s been having about the damaging effect of Apu’s legacy. Via The Hollywood Reporter:
“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.”
The boy, “with tears in his eyes,” Azaria said, asked the actor to tell Hollywood writers what they do matters and has ramifications on people’s lives.
Azaria says he continues to have this kind of interaction and he can’t apologize enough for what he’s done. “Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize,” he said. “And sometimes I do.”
Azaria’s words have already caught the attention of Kondabolu, who tweeted his support for the voice actor. “@HankAzaria is a kind & thoughtful person that proves that people are not simply ‘products of their time,’ but have the ability to learn & grow,” Kondabolu wrote. “Nothing. But. Respect.”
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 12, 2021
(Via The Hollywood Reporter)