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‘I helped create a dehumanising stereotype’: Hank Azaria finally sits down with The Problem With Apu creator

Hari Kondabolu 2017 documentary shone a light on the real-life repercussions of ‘The Simpsons’ character’s existence

Tom Murray
Wednesday 26 April 2023 20:23 BST
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The Simpsons' Hank Azaria says he's 'willing to step aside' as voice of Apu following controversy

Hank Azaria has sat down with Hari Kondabolu, the creator of the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, for the first time in a public forum.

Azaria has previously apologised for voicing the Indian convenience store clerk Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons for almost 20 years. He stepped aside from the role after Kondabolu’s documentary explored the real-life repercussions of the character’s existence.

The pair appeared for a conversation on NPR’s Code Switch podcast, released Wednesday (26 April), to discuss the fallout from the documentary.

During the interview, Azaria was asked by the NPR host if he’d thought about how voicing Apu had helped create a cultural space for the “dehumanisation” of Desi people in the US.

“Yeah I have thought about that,” Azaria confirmed. “And it’s important to point out that pre-Hari, I had not thought about that stuff… I had to be told 54 times before it sunk in. I think about that all the time now.”

He continued: “Through my role in Apu and what I created in Hollywood messaging – which is a big deal in this country and around the world – I helped to create a pretty marginalising, dehumanising stereotype.”

Hank Azaria (left) and Hari Kondabolu (Getty Images)

Azaria said that amid the furore surrounding the documentary, he remembered reading a news story about a store clerk who had been attacked and was called Apu by his assailants. “I think if I had any doubts at that point… I got the answer. Apu had become a slur.”

“When something is used in hate violence, it’s pretty clear,” Kondabolu agreed.

Azaria last apologised for voicing the character on Dax Shepard’s popular Armchair Expert podcast in 2021.

“Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise. And sometimes I do,” he said.

The character was quietly phased out in 2016, recurring only as an occasional background character.

In 2020, it was announced that white actors would no longer voice non-white characters on the comedy. Addressing the decision, Simpsons creator Matt Groening said: “It was not my idea, but I’m fine with it. Who can be against diversity? So it’s great.

“However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters,” he said. “They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of. To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices, do multiple voices.”

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