‘The Simpsons’ Actor Apologizes for Voicing 30 Years of Stereotyped Character Apu

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“The Simpsons” voice actor Hank Azaria continues to express his apologies for voicing the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, noting that the character itself has become “practically a slur at this point.”

Over a year after he stopped doing the character’s voice, Azaria reflected on his controversial portrayal of the Indian American character during an episode of the podcast “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard” on Monday.

Host Dax Shepard commended the way Azaria responded to the controversy after it gained attention from the 2017 documentary “The Problem with Apu” by comedian Hari Kondabolu. It examined the character’s portrayal and highlighted its negative, stereotypical representation of South Asians. 

Azaria has been playing Nahasapeemapetilon with a very thick accent since the character was introduced back in 1990, on “The Telltale Head,” the eighth episode of the first season.

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After the release of “The Problem with Apu,” Azaria announced that he was stepping down as the voice of Apu while pointing out that he does not have control over the character’s future. 

Azaria said his time in Alcoholics Anonymous helped him learn how to proceed with the backlash he received following the documentary.

“I needed to shut up … and listen and learn. And that took a while. This was not a two-week process: I needed to educate myself a lot. If I had not gotten sober, I promise you it wouldn’t have taken much wine for me to be in my feelings one night and fire off a tweet that I felt justified in firing off. Some kind of defensive, white-fragile tweet. Boy, was I glad I had a system in place where I could look at this thing.”

Azaria noted that his three-year learning process included attending seminars by the Soul Focused Group and speaking with many Indian American colleagues, including Utkarsh Ambudkar, who voiced Apu’s nephew on one of the “Simpsons” episodes.

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“I realised I have had a date with destiny with this thing for 31 years,” he said, according to the BBC.

Kondabolu himself thanked Azaria for his response to the issue.

Azaria, however, noted in the podcast that he is still in the process of making amends for being part of the problem. 

“It’s not about congratulating me for the response because I’m a big part in creating the problem to begin with,” Azaria was quoted as saying. “So nothing takes that away except maybe an amends over time which I am attempting to make.”

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According to Azaria, he had the chance to speak with Indian students at his son’s school in a bid to get their input on the matter. He shared that a 17-year-old student who has never seen an episode of “The Simpsons” told him that he is still aware of the Apu character.

“It’s practically a slur at this point,” he said. “All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”

Azaria said the student got emotional and asked him to share the message about the impact of such popular characters.

“I really do apologize,” he added. “It’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do.”

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While “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening previously stated that Apu will remain on the show, he has yet to make a new appearance as the show looks for Azaria’s replacement.

“We’ve got plans for Apu, but we have to see if we can make the stories work. . . . We’re working on something kind of ambitious. That’s all I can say,” Groening recently told USA Today

Feature Image via Umer Malik

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