Well-known 58-year-old American actor Hank Azaria has apologized “to every single Indian person.”
Azaria is famous for his portrayal of Apu in superhit animation TV series The Simpsons.
From 1989 to 2020, Azaria voiced the role of the Indian American shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
He left the role last year amid criticism of racial stereotyping.
Speaking on the Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria said that though he believed the show was founded on good intentions, it contributed to the “structural racism” in the US and has taken him some time to realize that his portrayal was offensive to the Indian American community.
“I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think about it. I was unaware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens. Just because there were good intentions it doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for.”
To Monica Padman, an Indian American host of the show, Azaria said:
“I really do apologise. I know you weren’t asking for that but it’s important. I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels I need to go round to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise.”
In 2017, Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu made a documentary – The Problem with Apu – as a look at “how western culture depicts south-east Asian communities.”
In tweets about the recent podcast interview, Kondabolu welcomed Azaria’s apology but saw it as a “comeuppance” – a punishment or fate that someone deserves – for the show.
“The ‘Apu Controversy’ is not real. Racism isn’t ‘controversial’, it’s a constant … Unless you think People of Color finally standing up for themselves is ‘controversial’. However, I suppose a word like ‘controversy’ is more clickable than ‘comeuppance’.”
In another tweet Kondabolu called Azaria “kind and thoughtful”, which he said proved that “people are not simply ‘products of their time’ but have the ability to learn and grow”.
Last year, Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has announced that non-white characters would no longer be voiced by white actors.
He also told the BBC that hurting any ethnic minority is never the intention:
“All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone.”
In the Armchair Podcast, Azaria said he had worked on understanding the issue with the help of his teenage son Hal.
“I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input. … [There was] a 17-year-old, he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point.”