Simpsons actor Hank Azaria, who provides the show’s voice for the ‘Apu Nahasapeemapetilon’ character, has said he would be willing to give up the role and be replaced by an Indian or South Asian actor after calling for more “inclusion” and diversity in the show’s writing room.
He made the comments while appearing on Stephen Colbert’s-The Late Show, where he called for The Simpsons creators to listen to the criticism over Apu, who has been called “a noxious pastiche of South Asian stereotypes”.
“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” he said. “Listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers’ room, genuinely informing whichever direction this character takes…I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
The conversation around the Apu character started when Hari Kondabolu – a stand-up comic from New York – created a documentary called ‘The Problem with Apu’. He used the platform to explain how the character was used by children and young people, who would use his catchphrase “Thank you, come again!” as a tool to bully south Asian Americans.
“There are a billion reasons to love The Simpsons and Apu was one of them,” Kondabolu told the Guardian in 2017. “But when you sit in high school, which is, I think for most of us, the lowest point in our lives, you realise [Apu] was a tool for kids to go after you. And this was perfect, right? A caricature with this ridiculous accent that nobody has…I still had the same vulnerabilities, and my parents were accented. I thought: how are they going to view my parents, how are they going to view me?”
The Simpsons addressed the criticism during an episode in early April where Lisa Simpson referenced the controversy in a scene which ended with a picture of Apu with the phrase “don’t have a cow” on it. Kondabolu himself was among the first to respond, criticising the scene as dismissive. “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”
Azaria had previously said the fact that Apu had caused any kind of harm and suffering was “disturbing” and “distressing” to him. “The idea that anybody was marginalised based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally,” he added.
Last week, The Simpsons’ executive producer, Al Jean, tweeted that he would address the controversy. “I truly appreciate all responses pro and con…I will continue to try to find an answer that is popular [and] more important right.”