Hank Azaria, the famed voice actor behind several characters on The Simpsons, has publicly apologised for voicing the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, which he described as an offensive Indian stereotype.
Last year, he announced he would no longer be providing the voice of the Kwik-E-Mart clerk, whose thick accent, Indian culture and Hindu beliefs were played for laughs on the show.
Azaria, a white American, made the comments on the Armchair Expert podcast, where he said he initially had a “blind spot” to cultural issues surrounding Apu.
“Participating in racism, as in structural racism in this country, is about blind spots,” he said.
“I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think about it.
“And there were very good intentions on all of our parts and we tried to do a funny, thoughtful character.
“Just because there were good intentions doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences for the thing that I am accountable for.”
— Armchair Expert Podcast (@ArmchairExpPod) April 12, 2021
Controversy surrounding the character was laid out in the 2017 documentary film The Problem With Apu.
“Everything with Apu is like this running joke … and the running joke is that he is Indian,” filmmaker Hari Kondabolu said in the film.
Azaria told the podcast he struggled with feelings of being “hurt, upset, defensive” after the film’s release, but decided to reflect on his position rather than react defensively.
“I didn’t want a knee-jerk response,” he said.
“I went and learned, I read, I talked to a lot of Indian people.
“I apologise for my part in creating [Apu], in participating in that.
“Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise.”
Show no longer has white actors impersonating other races
Azaria is also known for voicing the characters of Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, and Carl Carlson, who is black.
The Simpsons, which is currently in its 32nd season, announced last year it would move away from using white actors to voice non-white characters.
Earlier this year, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening told BBC Radio that “times changed” since the show’s original airing in 1989.
“We’re trying to make it better,” he said.
“Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it’s good to finally go for more equality and representation.”