Though many viewers have long taken issue with Azaria, a white man, voicing an Indian character, the conversation evolved into a full-blown movement with the release of TruTV’s 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu. The film chronicled how the character of Apu — whom Azaria has voiced since his introduction in 1990 — has negatively impacted viewers’ perceptions about Indian people, among other issues.
“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria tells The New York Times in a new interview. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Azaria says that he spent the next several years reflecting on the situation, reading articles and essays about representation and attending “seminars about racism and social consciousness.”
“What happened with this character is a window into an important issue,” he says. “It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”
Though Azaria has voiced countless Simpsons characters with a wide range of accents, he says he now recognizes the difference with Apu. “There hasn’t been an outcry over these characters [from other countries] because people feel they’re represented,” he said. “They don’t take it so personally, nor do they feel oppressed or insulted by it.”
Azaria says he went to the producers of The Simpsons a year ago with his concerns, and “they were very sympathetic and supportive. We were all in agreement.”
Aside from a questionable in-episode reference, the show’s producers have remained relatively quiet about the growing controversy. They did, however, release this curious statement to the Times, which strongly hints that Apu could return in the future with a different voice:
“We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character. … Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned.”
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