Actor Hank Azaria has explained why he has chosen to step down from his role voicing Apu in The Simpsons.
The voice actor has played the character since 1990, but in recent years earned criticism from viewers and artists alike who saw Apu as a racist stereotype. Criticism was levelled at Azaria, a white Jewish man, for playing an Indian immigrant character.
“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 to The New York Times. “It just didn’t feel right.”
As well as backlash from fans, the portrayal of Apu also led to a documentary by Simpsons fan and comedian Hari Kondabolu called The Problem with Apu. The film includes interviews with influential artists including Aziz Ansari, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Maulik Pancholy, Sakina Jaffrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Kal Penn to assess the character’s impact.
“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,” Azaria said of that era.
“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,” he added.
Azaria has also voiced other characters on The Simpsons including bartender Moe, Chief Wiggum, and librarian Professor Frink. The decision to leave Apu was shared with Slash Film earlier this year, but the future of the character remains unclear.
On Azaria’s move, the Simpsons executive producers said in a statement: “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.”
“What happened with this character is a window into an important issue,” Azaria said. “It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.
“I love this show,” the actor continued. “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.”