The Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria has apologised for his longtime portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on the series, while also acknowledging the show’s participation in “structural racism”.
In the April 12 episode of Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria said that he wished he had stopped playing Apu earlier (he’d been voicing the role since 1990).
“I’ve had a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years,” Azaria said.
“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 apologised specifically to the podcast’s co-host Monica Padman, an Indian-American woman, saying, “I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important.
“I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that.”
In 2017, widespread calls for Azaria to stop voicing Apu began following Hari Kondabolu’s criticism of the portrayal of the character in his documentary The Problem With Apu.
Elsewhere in the podcast, Azaria also went on to call for greater and more diverse racial and ethnic representation in entertainment.
“If it’s an Indian character or a Latinx character or a Black character, please let’s have that person voice the character,” he said.
“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.”
In January of last year, Azaria confirmed he would no longer be voicing the character, saying, “All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s someway to transition it or something”.
One month later, he elaborated on the controversy to The New York Times, saying “Once I realised that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore.”
“I didn’t want to knee-jerk drop it if I didn’t feel that was right, nor did I want to stubbornly keep doing it if that wasn’t right,” he continued.
“But then 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.”