The Simpsons Apu Controversy: Hank Azaria Explains Why He Will No Longer Voice The Character
"It just didn't feel right."
Actor Hank Azaria has opened up on his decision to stop voicing the character Apu on The Simpsons. Speaking to The New York Times, Azaria said he was thoughtfully considering the matter for multiple years before making the choice to end his run as Apu.
"Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn't want to participate in it anymore," Azaria said. "It just didn't feel right."
Apu was one of the most prominent South Asian characters on TV in the 90s when The Simpsons was getting started and ultimately rising to prominence. Comedian Hari Kondabolu's 2017 documentary, The Problem With Apu, called out Apu as being a stereotype.
Azaria, who is white and Jewish, said he saw the documentary and his initial reaction was to defend the character. "We make fun of everyone," he said. "Don't tell me how to be funny."
Azaria would go on to consult with Indian-Americans, including actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, to get their opinions about what he should do about Apu. Ambudkar told NYT that Azaria "was in a space where he was exploring, where he was trying to open up and take responsibility."
Azaria said he did some self-reflection and thought that he wouldn't feel very good if a TV show depicted a character based on someone like him--a white Jewish man--as a stereotype.
"I started thinking, if that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which was the case with Apu, I might not love that," he said.
Around one year ago, Azaria met with The Simpsons bosses Al Jean, James L. Brooks, and Matt Groening to tell them he no longer wanted to voice Apu. He said the executives were "very sympathetic and supportive" when he told them he was "uncomfortable" voicing Apu.
Azaria went on to say that he still loves The Simpsons and he hopes to continue to be a part of it for a long time to come. Azaria also voices Moe, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Cletus, Professor Frink, the Sea Captain, Superintendent Chalmers, Disco Stu, and Duffman, among others.
"I have tremendous pride in doing the show. And the character of Apu was done with love and pride and the best of intentions. My message is, things can be done with really good intentions and have negative consequences," Azaria said.
There is no word yet on if The Simpsons will continue to feature Apu, and if so, what actor might take over for Azaria. "Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned," the producers of The Simpsons said in a statement.
The Simpsons is currently in its 31st season. The show may eventually go off in the air, and Disney (which now owns Fox) is preparing for that future by announcing many more animated shows.
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