Hank Azaria, the actor who voices Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons, responded to the controversy over the allegedly racist depiction of the Indian immigrant and said that he is willing to step aside if necessary, reported Variety. In an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, Azaria said he feels rethinking the character “seems like the right thing to do”.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened,” he told Colbert. “I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room....genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside, or help transition it into something new.”
Apu was introduced in the popular animated show in 1990 as the owner of a convenience store in the fictional town of Springfield with a peculiar accent, exaggerated mannerisms and the catch phrase “Thank you, come again”. The impact of this stereotyping on the South Asian community in the United States of America was highlighted in comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary, The Problem with Apu. In the film, directed by Michael Melamedoff, Kondabalu interviewed South Asian entertainers such as Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Hasan Minhaj and Sakina Jaffrey about how Apu had affected their personal and professional lives.
The Simpsons finally addressed the controversy in April, in the episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished, but their seemingly non-committal response was criticised. In the episode, Marge and Lisa Simpson look at a picture of Apu and say, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?...Some things will be dealt with at a later date...if at all.”
Azaria told Colbert on Tuesday that he had nothing to do with that episode. “I think if anyone came away from the segment thinking they need to lighten up...that’s definitely not the message that I want to send.”
“The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad,” he said. “It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.”