Hank Azaria, the actor who voices Apu on The Simpsons, has said that he’d step aside from the role if that was what is required, following accusations that the character is a racial stereotype.
The documentary The Problem With Apu released last year by comedian and writer Hari Kondabolu, highlighted the slurs and stereotypes that the character has embodied over years on the show, and featured the likes of Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn.
Since the film’s release, the conversation around Apu’s character has become increasingly heated, something Azaria is aware of.
“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” Azaria said on last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
“I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room, not in a token way… including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside or help transition it into something new. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
Asked if he fully understood the problems with the character, he added: “It’s come to my attention more and more over the past couple years.
“The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad. It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say, my eyes have been opened.”
The show appeared to broach the subject of Apu’s portrayal, and the documentary, in an episode earlier this month, using Lisa Simpson’s character to voice what appeared to be the show-runner’s take on the controversy.
When Marge reads a bedtime story to Lisa, having doctored its content to fit more with modern times, Lisa replies: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
Lisa then looks over to a picture of Apu – inexplicably on her bedside table but clearly intended as a message to critics – with the message ‘Don’t have a cow, Apu’ written across his face.
The Simpsons response to The Problem with Apu: a callous and resentful shrug. pic.twitter.com/8N6XRzNvsi
— William Mullally (@whmullally) April 9, 2018
The response was heavily criticised, with the show-runner Al Jean later tweeting that he would ‘continue to try and find an answer that is popular & more important right’.
For his part, Azaria appeared to criticise Jean’s response too.
“I had nothing to do with the writing or the voicing [in that episode]. I think if anyone came away from that segment thinking they need to lighten up… that’s definitely not the message that I want to send,” he said.
Kondabolu later tweeted his thanks to Azaria for his comments.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 25, 2018