Hank Azaria has reiterated his regret voicing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the controversial character on The Simpsons that he officially quit voicing in February 2020.
Azaria has apologised for, as a Caucasian individual, participating in what he described as “structural racism.” Appearing on the Armchair Expert podcast, hosted by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman, Azaria said the character is “practically a slur at this point.”
“I’ve had a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years,” the actor and voice talent said, referring to the backlash and self-realisation that had been building up over the years. “Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise, and sometimes I do when it comes up.”
He also apologised directly to Padman, the Indian American actor and co-host of the podcast. “I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important,” he said to Padman. “I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that.”
Azaria voiced Apu for around three decades (he first voiced the character in 1990) and said he regrets not dropping the part earlier. A number of turning points ultimately drove his decision, such as 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, which Azaria says played a part in him being “canceled, however you want to put it,” and one particular experience speaking at his son’s school.
“[This] 17-year-old … he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.” Azaria said the boy, “with tears in his eyes,” asked that he tell Hollywood of how their creations can affect the lives of others.
The character was created with innocent intentions, Azaria said. “We tried to do a funny, thoughtful character. [But] just because there were good intentions doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences that I am accountable for.”
Azaria is now urging other voice actors and animation studios to change tactics when it comes to who is chosen to voice characters of other races. “If it’s an Indian character or a Latinx character or a Black character, please let’s have that person voice the character. It’s more authentic, they’ll bring their experience to it, and let’s not take jobs away from people who don’t have enough.”
Azaria last year also stopped voicing Black American character Carl Carlson, who is now voiced by Alex Désert. He continues to voice Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy, among numerous others.
Kicking off in 1989, The Simpsons remains the longest-running American animated series. The show is currently on its 32nd season and two more have been greenlit.