Hank Azaria, Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian, apologised to Indians for his contribution to “structural racism” through his portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in American animated sitcom The Simpsons.
Participating in the Armchair Expert Podcast show hosted by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman on Monday, Azaria said: “I’ve had a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years.”
Deep, deep, deep episode with my friend Hank Azaria @hankazaria. It was really helpful for me to chat openly about a program Hank works much harder and better than myself. So many insights and a thousand laughs. I loved this. https://t.co/xrmQ3jTegT pic.twitter.com/oED95pSwnI
— dax shepard (@daxshepard) April 12, 2021
The Simpsons was created by Matt Groening for Fox Broadcasting. The show focuses on a working-class American family and first aired in 1989.
In 2017, a documentary film The Problem with Apu criticised the show’s racist and stereotypical portrayal of Apu. It was written by comedian Hari Kondabolu, who also starred in the project. The documentary was produced and directed by Michael Melamedoff. Following the release of the documentary, Azaria announced the termination of his 31-year association with The Simpsons. However, the actor continues to voice other parts of the Fox comedy, including Moe Szyslak.
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).
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) January 17, 2020
Interacting on the show, Azaria specifically apologised to Indian-American co-host Padman, and said, “I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important. I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that.”
He said that Apu was a character created with “good intentions”. “We tried to do a funny, thoughtful character. But just because there were good intentions doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences that I am accountable for,” he said.
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Azaria also urged other animated series to change the representation of race and ethnicity to ensure authenticity. “If it’s an Indian character or a Latina 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,” Azaria said.
Azaria also discussed his addiction and recovery, and being mistaken as someone in the upholstery business in the podcast show.