It’s been almost four years since comedian Hari Kondabolu released his documentary The Problem With Apu, bringing the issue of whitewashing and racist voice casting to the doorstep of actor Hank Azaria for his portrayal of The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. “I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot to think about and we really are thinking about it,” Azaria said at the time. “Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by it, or by any character or vocal performance, it’s really upsetting that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.” Now, having officially stepped away from the character last year, Azaria tells the podcast Armchair Expert that he feels like he might need “to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize” for passing on “structural racism” through his portray of the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart owner since 1988.
So how did Azaria eventually come to understand that his decision to voice a character of color, particularly with a faux Indian accent, was wrong? In part by talking to young Indian people about the impact Apu has made on popular American culture. “I was speaking at my son’s school. I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria told hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “A 17-year-old boy … 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.”
Later in the episode Azaria told host Padman, who is herself Indian American, “I really do apologize. I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that … Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize, and sometimes I do when it comes up.”
Now Azaria say he’s a proponent of non-racist casting, hiring BIPOC people to voice BIPOC characters; he’s also been replaced by actor Alex Désert as the voice of Carl Carlson, a Black character on The Simpsons. “If it’s an Indian character, or a Latinx character, or a Black character, please, let’s have that person voice the character,” he concludes. “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.” You can hear his entire Armchair Expert episode here.