It’s been over a year since Hank Azaria stepped away from voicing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner who’s been a staple of The Simpsons since its first season. Creator Matt Groening has said he’ll be back, no longer voiced by a white actor — just one of the aspects that had long drawn the ire of the character’s critics. (Since then, all non-white characters previously voiced by white actors will be recast.) And though he still hasn’t revealed when, Groening says he won’t do it by half measures.
“I think the Apu stories are fantastic, and he’s one of the most nuanced characters on a silly two-dimensional cartoon show. So, yeah, I’m proud of Apu,” Groening told USA Today (as caught by Entertainment Weekly) ahead of the show’s 700th episode. He admitted they’re still looking for a replacement voice actor, but that they’re “working on something kind of ambitious.” That said, he and the writers do “have to see if we can make the stories work.”
Apu’s recasting came after many years of complaints about not only a white actor voicing an Indian character, but for perpetuating cultural stereotypes. Comedian Hari Kondabolu even made a feature-length documentary about the issue, called The Problem with Apu. In the last few years there has been more forceful questioning of issues involving representation, and the Simpsons team finally gave in — an idea Groening said he’s “fine with,” though he’s pushed back a little at it.
“Who can be against diversity? So it’s great,” Groening said. “However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters. They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of. To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices, do multiple voices. That’s part of the fun of animation, However, to be more inclusive and hire more people, I’m completely in favor of that.”