Hank Azaria Says He Owes Every Indian Person an Apology for Apu

The actor admitted the "Simpsons" character is "practically a slur at this point"

Actor Hank Azaria attends a "Brockmire" red carpet event
Actor Hank Azaria attends a "Brockmire" red carpet event in 2017.
Mike Pont/WireImage

Back in February of last year, Hank Azaria announced he would no longer voice Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Kwik-E-Mart owner on The Simpsons. The character was a source of controversy for many years, highlighted in the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, due to the way it reinforced stereotypes. Now, the actor has revealed that he feels as though he owes an apology to every Indian person.

In a recent interview on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria gave a poignant example of some of the feedback that led him to step away from the character.

“I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” he said, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter. “A 17-year-old … he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”

Azaria added that the student, “with tears in his eyes,” asked him to tell Hollywood writers that what they do has a direct impact on people’s lives. “I really do apologize,” he said. “It’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do.”

Comedian Hari Kondabolu, who wrote and starred in The Problem With Apu, reacted to Azaria’s comments on Twitter, writing, “[Hank Azaria] is a kind & thoughtful person that proves that people are not simply ‘products of their time,’ but have the ability to learn & grow. Nothing. But. Respect.”

Azaria’s comments are especially interesting because they stand in direct contrast with those of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who recently said he’s “proud” of the character and has plans to bring him back. “I think the Apu stories are fantastic, and he’s one of the most nuanced characters on a silly two-dimensional cartoon show,” Groening said last month. “So, yeah, I’m proud of Apu. I’m trying not to open up another chasm of criticism, but it doesn’t matter what I say. I’ll get it anyway.”

As long as he’s unable to recognize or admit the harm the Apu character has caused, Groening remains totally deserving of that criticism. Here’s hoping Hank Azaria can talk some sense into him.

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