Hank Azaria, a noted actor who voices many of “The Simpsons” characters,” is stepping back from Apu, out of concerns about racial stereotyping.
This could mark the end of appearances by the beloved Indian Kwik-E-Mart owner.
Beside, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Azaria also voices Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson and others.
But he’s drawn particular heat for Apu.
A 2017 documentary titled, “The Problem With Apu,” most recently raised the issue. Documentarian Hari Kondabolu claimed the character played off “racial stereotypes.”
But Apu has been a subject of controversy for years, mainly because of his back story.
He is an Indian immigrant, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science, but can only find work at a convenience store. His arranged marriage and the fact that he’s had so many children are also sore points.
Azaria has also been criticized because he is white, voicing an Indian-American.
When the subject came up in the past, Simpsons producers always stood behind their character.
In a 2018 episode titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” the show warned about the dangers of “political correctness.” Marge and Lisa make the point in a scene, pondering how classic literature would lose its meaning if updated to meet modern standards.
The scene opens with Marge realizing that her favorite childhood book, “The Princess in the Garden” by Heloise Hodgeson Burwell, is loaded with stereotypes. The book is fictional, but closely resembles “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Marge dreams that Heloise and 19th century Victorian author Rudyard Kipling urge her to update the book to meet today’s cultural standards.
Kipling wrote extensively about India during Britain’s colonial rule and many of his works have also been widely criticized for steretyping.
In any event, when Marge reads the updated version to Lisa she realizes that “the spirit and character” of the book are gone.
In 2013, in the face of a similar controversy, Azaria said the character was unlikely to change or be written out of the show.
“I’d be surprised if [the show’s writers] write him any less frequently because he’s offensive,” he told HuffingtonPost.
But this time around he seems to have had a change of heart. He said in a recent interview voicing the character “just doesn’t feel right.”
He confirmed earlier this year he would be giving up Apu’s voice, and now acknowledges the role is “racist.”
“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore.”
Azaria, who is Jewish, said he would also be offended if a character on the show played off a Jewish stereotype.
“I started thinking, 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 told The New York Times.
So far, the character is in limbo. “The Simpsons” producers released a statement in response to Azaria.
“We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character. Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him, too. Stay tuned.”
Azaria expressed puzzlement at the statement.
“All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s some way to transition it or something. We all made the decision together … We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it,” he said.
“What they’re going to do with the character is their call. It’s up to them, and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.”
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