It’s been over a year since Hank Azaria stepped down from being the voice of Indian cartoon character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. However, what he has learnt about structural racism continues to haunt his career, and he has now apologised for contributing to the problem. He confessed:
I really do apologise. It's important.
I apologise 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 apologise. And sometimes I do.
The dangers of stereotyping
Azaria was the voice of Apu, the Kwik-E-Mart store manager, for three decades and has only recently realised how harmful his character has been in propagating stereotypes and racism against the South Asian community. He spoke about his regrets in depth earlier this week on the podcast Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. Azaria said:
It's not about congratulating me for the response because I'm a big part in creating the problem to begin with.
So nothing takes that away except maybe an amends over time which I am attempting to make.
He revealed that he had been talking with many people from the South Asian community, and has started educating himself more about racism. He admitted that he didn’t understand the damage the character would do for so many years. It was only in 2017, when Indian-American comic, Hari Kondabolu, released his documentary The Problem With Apu, that he really started to understand the problematic portrayal of Apu on The Simpsons, and its consequences.
I really didn't know any better. I didn't think about it. I was unware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens.
Just because there were good intentions it doesn't mean there weren't real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for.
Apu was not the only coloured character that Azaria voiced for. He also used to voice for Black character, Carl Carlson but Alex Désert took over that role last year. Azaria is still working on the show voicing for Moe Szyslak.
Since Azaria stopped playing Apu, the character has been put on hold until they find a suitable actor to voice for him. Azaria has been strongly advocating choosing actors of colour to play characters of colour, he added:
If it's a character of colour, there's not the same level of opportunity there. The first argument is, if it's an Indian character, Latin character or Black character, please let's have that person voice the character.
It's more authentic, they might also bring their experience of their culture to it - and let's not take away jobs from people who don't have enough.