In the wake of a November TV documentary charging that South Asian convenience-store owner Apu on "The Simpsons" presents a racial stereotype, voiceover actor Hank Azaria says he is willing to stop performing the character.
"It's come to my attention more and more, especially the last couple of years … that people in the South-Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization," Azaria, 54, said Tuesday on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."
"The idea that anybody ... was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad," added Azaria, who voices Apu but is not a writer or producer of the long-running Fox animated series. "It was certainly not my intention. … The idea that it's brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize people, it's upsetting, genuinely."
The issue was spotlighted in comedian Hari Kondabolu's truTV documentary "The Problem with Apu," in which the Queens-born son of Indian immigrants posited that Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who first appeared in season 1 of "The Simpsons" in 1990, is a racist stereotype that interviewee Whoopi Goldberg likened to blackface caricature. Critics have questioned the appropriateness of a response on the April 8 "Simpsons" episode, in which Marge Simpson addresses racial stereotypes in popular culture, concluding that, "Some things will be dealt with at a later date." "If at all," her daughter Lisa replies.
That segment, said "Brockmire" star Azaria, "was a late addition that I saw right around the same time that everybody else in America did," adding, "I think that if anybody came away from that segment feeling that they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin or toughen up … that's certainly not the way I feel about it. And that's definitely not the message that I want to send."
Azaria -- whose six Emmy Awards include four for his "Simpsons" work -- said he believed South Asian voices belong in the show's writers' room, "not in a token way, but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced. I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that's what 'The Simpsons' does and it not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do, to me."
Kondabolu tweeted in response Wednesday, "Thank you, @HankAzaria. I appreciate what you said & how you said it."