Apu from The Simpsons is very much in flux, as the longtime voice of the convenience store owner on the Fox cartoon said he’s done with the role following criticism of stereotyping from a number of sources. Hank Azaria is done voicing the character, though he will stay on the show to keep other roles.
We also know that Apu will stay on the show, with someone taking the role over for Azaria, who has spoken out about the controversy and called it a learning experience. But even as there’s uncertainty about what happens next with Apu, The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has supported the character and explained why the show is “proud” of who he’s become.
Jean spoke to Radio Times and explained that, while an Apu cast in 2020 would be done much differently, he’s proud of the way he’s been portrayed as a misunderstood working man on the long-running network cartoon.
“If we were casting the character now, we’d cast someone who was ethnically correct to play Apu. The way we always wrote him, though, was as a hardworking, thoughtful family man who was smarter than everyone else in Springfield. The majority of the jokes were about Springfield not appreciating what a gem he is. So we’re proud of him.”
Jean’s response makes sense and doesn’t necessarily defend the show’s decision to have Azara, a white man, voice a character of color as much as an attempt to point out there was some nuance with the character. That doesn’t necessarily rebuke the characterization and the criticism the show has seen, but it is a clarification that the show’s creation of Apu wasn’t done with malice.
We won’t know what happens to Apu or who voices him for some time, but it’s clear those involved with the show are starting to explain their side of things now that Azaria has made his decision and, as he says, learned from his actions that had offended people of color.