Hank Azaria will no longer voice The Simpsons character Apu after getting blowback for years. In a new interview with The New York Times, he admits that basing Apu on a racist Peter Sellers character in The Party, was a “blindspot.” In the 1968 film, Sellers appears in brownface as an Indian actor.
“There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting.”
Speaking to Slashfilm at TCA, Azaria said he isn’t sure how the show will move forward: “All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s someway to transition it or something. 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.”
Azaria told the Times: “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right.” In a statement to the Times, the show said, “We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.” But they left the door open: “Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned.”
In 2017, the long-simmering objections fans had boiled over when comedian Hari Kondabolu produced a documentary called The Problem With Apu. In it, he explored how the character of Apu affected South Asian actors and comedians as kids, and tackled the larger issue of South Asian representation in the modern media. Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn also appeared to discuss how they were affected.
Kondabolu describes Apu as a “white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”