‘The Simpsons’ star hints at plans to address Apu criticism
Actor Hank Azaria, the voice of Apu from The Simpsons, spoke at a TCA panel about Apu’s controversy over the years. Even as the series continues, Apu might not pass the bar for cultural sensitivity in 2018 and beyond.
“As far as what’s going to happen with the character going forward, it’s really not just up to me,” Azaria said at TCA. “I know that The Simpsons guys are doing that too, they’re giving it a lot of thought and we’ve discussed a little bit. They will definitely address, maybe publicly, certainly creatively within the context of the show what they want to do, if anything, with the character.”
The resurgent conversation about Apu as a problematic South Asian stereotype stems in part from ongoing efforts to call out Hollywood on how it treats people of color – and partly from Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem With Apu, a documentary which aired in November. Kondabolu interviewed Simpsons producers and many of his fellow South Asian actors, all of whom recalled having to answer for the character at some point.
Azaria, who is not South Asian, was tapped to play the character in the early ’90s; a common practice both then and, inexplicably, now.
“The idea that anybody young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on The Simpsons is distressing,” Azaria continued. “Especially post-9/11 in America, the idea that anyone was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me, personally and professionally. The intent was to make people laugh and bring joy.”
Azaria also said what a Simpsons producer echoes in The Problem With Apu, that the show is “pretty humorously offensive to all manners of people.” But as Kondabolu points out, South Asians weren’t visible enough in Hollywood when The Simpsons debuted to have any other pop culture reference point – at least not one that wasn’t equally offensive.