Actor, Hank Azaria has apologised for his participation in aiding “structural racism” by voicing an Indian character on The Simpsons. The 56 year-old, who has been with the show since ’89, has voiced several fan favourites such as Apu and Dr Hibbert.
Hank, who is of Spanish-Jewish decent, had performed the voice of Indian shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the show since 1990. Amid growing controversy regarding the show’s racial stereotyping, the actor stepped back last year as part of a change in casting culture in animation.
Speaking to the Armchair Expert podcast, Hank told the show that he has “had a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years”. The actor added that part of him “feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise”. Azaria admits to having apologised to people before, when the topic comes up in discussion, as he deals with his guilt.
Turning to co-host, Monica Padman, who is Indian-American herself, Hank apologised to her personally, if he had caused any upset. The Birdcage actor told Padman, “I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important. I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that”.
Following the casting culture shake-up, Hank has been replaced in the roles of the Kwik-E-Mart owner and Dr Hibbert. The actor revealed the decision to step back from voicing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon came after a visit to his son’s school.
“I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” said Hank. “A 17-year-old boy… he’s never even seen The Simpsons, but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of, and represented, to many people in this country.”
Given most of the actors on the show play multiple characters, some people say it is overly sensitive to change the voices of lovable characters. Hank still voices several characters in the show but added that he is now an advocate for more diverse casting.
“I have people say to me, ‘Oh does this mean you can’t play Wiggum because you’re not a real cop?’ That’s just ridiculous,” Hank says. “If it’s a character of colour, there’s not the same level of opportunity there. The first argument is, if it’s an Indian character, Latin character or Black character, please let’s have that person voice the character. It’s more authentic, they might also bring their experience of their culture to it – and let’s not take away jobs from people who don’t have enough.”
The fate of the Simpsons’ character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has been hanging in doubt over the growing controversy regarding the show’s racial stereotyping. However, creator of the show, Matt Groening confirmed that the popular Kwik-E-Mart worker won’t be axed from the show.