For 30-plus years, a white man has been voicing an Indian character with an exaggerated, fake Indian accent on a popular animated show on Fox. That has now come to an end.
The character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a convenience store clerk on “The Simpsons,” has been voiced by Hank Azaria since the show’s inception. But Azaria confirmed Jan. 17 that he will no longer be voicing the controversial character that has been accused of pushing racial stereotypes.
Azaria revealed this latest development in an interview with Slashfilm during the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour following a panel for his IFC show, “Brockmire.”
It’s not clear as yet if the character will be written out of the show or if a new actor – hopefully Indian – will be brought in to voice the beloved character.
“All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s some way to transition it or something,” Azaria told Slashfilm. “What they’re going to do with the character is their call. It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.”
Azaria added that the decision was a mutual one.
“We all made the decision together,” Azaria was quoted as saying by the publication. “We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.”
Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu helped spark a conversation about the character in the show through his 2017 documentary, “The Problem with Apu,” which featured several Indian American artists.
“It’s like a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father,” said Kondabolu. (Read earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2udWu8f.)
Azaria had been thinking of stepping aside for a while.
In May 2018, Azaria addressed the controversy during his appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” He said he was willing to stop voicing the character.
“I say my eyes have been opened. And I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been,” Azaria said.
In a series of tweets after news broke that Azaria was moving away from Apu, Kondabolu wrote: “If @HankAzaria is indeed no longer doing the voice of Apu, I do hope they keep the character & let a very talented writing staff do something interesting with him. If not to better the show, then to at least spare me some death threats.”
Kondabolu, a die-hard fan of the show, went on to add that “My documentary ‘The Problem with Apu’ was not made to get rid of a dated cartoon character, but to discuss race, representation & my community (which I love very much). It was also about how you can love something (like the Simpsons) & still be critical about aspects of it (Apu).”