Hank Azaria Weighs in on the Problem With Apu Debate

Image courtesy Polygon

As fate would have it, The Simpsons are willing to change and address issues that have been brewing for over two decades.

Recently, an ongoing issue that has plagued The Simpsons has made national news, as comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu brought a much-needed discussion to the table.

Since the show’s inception, the popular Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a very much Indian resident of Springfield, has been voiced by the very much not-Indian Hank Azaria.

The show tried, in a very thinly veiled attempt, to handle the issues Kondabolu raised, however, even that was met with criticism as the show almost mocked and belittled the issue with a blasé and unenthusiastic sketch.

Following that episode, showrunner Al Jean said the show would do whatever it takes to make things right.

Well, that may be what is going to happen as Hank Azaria himself has spoken on the steps he’s willing to take to right these wrongs.

Speaking to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, Azaria said;

“It has sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character going forward. Which is not so easy to answer.

I’ve tried to express this before.

The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it really makes me sad. It was certainly not my intention, I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character.

And the idea that it’s brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalise people, it’s upsetting, genuinely.”

When the subject of how The Simpsons addressed the issue, Azaria mentioned how he wants to instil change, positive change going forward, starting from writers’ room.

“As you know in television terms,” Azaria added. “‘listening to voices’ means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian and South Asian writers in the writers’ room, not in a token way, genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take. Including how it is voiced or not voiced.”

The upside to this – aside from the obvious, of course – is that Azaria already voices many of the cast of The Simpsons, so dropping one in favour of employing an Indian (or at least, a more appropriate) actor to take on the role won’t mean Azaria is out of a job. Whether or not Al Jean and co. take these steps (or something similar) to try and repent for their sins remains to be seen. Maybe, just maybe, The Simpsons can recoup some of their lost popularity, but we’ll have to wait and see.

-James, 26/04/2018

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