Published Feb 25, 2020Earlier this year, The Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria announced that after much deliberation he was stepping down from his role of Apu. The decision came after years of debate over whether or not the character perpetuates racist stereotypes, a conversation that was brought to the mainstream through Hari Kondabolu's film The Problem with Apu. Now, Azaria has opened up about the decision.
Speaking with the New York Times, Azaria admitted that he based his characterization of Apu on Hrundi V. Bakshi, the role Peter Sellers played in The Party. For that role, Sellers had worn brownface — a fact that Azaria didn't think was offensive at the time.
"That represents a real blind spot I had," Azaria said about basing the role off of The Party. "There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting."
He added, "Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn't want to participate in it anymore. It just didn't feel right. What happened with this character is a window into an important issue.... It's a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can."
Further, Azaria explained that his own Jewish culture helped him understand why Apu was considered offensive to so many people.
"If that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which was the case with Apu, I might not love that," he said.
In 2018, Simpsons creator Matt Groening spoke with Exclaim! in an interview about his latest series Disenchantment. At the time, he refused to comment on the Apu debate. As of now, it's unclear what the show will do with the character.