Hank Azaria apologises for part in ‘structural racism’ by voicing Apu on The Simpsons

The character of Apu has been criticised for reinforcing racial stereotypes (Photo: Fox/Getty Images)The character of Apu has been criticised for reinforcing racial stereotypes (Photo: Fox/Getty Images)
The character of Apu has been criticised for reinforcing racial stereotypes (Photo: Fox/Getty Images)

Actor Hank Azaria has apologised for his role in upholding “structural racism” by playing the voice of an Indian character on The Simpsons.

Mr Azaria, a white American actor from New York, played the role of convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon for more than 30 years, but announced he was stepping down in January last year.

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He has also been replaced in the role of surgeon Dr Hibbert in the show, another black character he voiced.

“Structural racism”

The character of Apu has come under fire for many years for reinforcing racial stereotypes.

In 2017, Indian-American comic Hari Kondabolu made a documentary saying Apu was founded on racial stereotypes, but despite the mounting criticism, Azaria said he initially wasn’t sure whether to step down from the role or not.

He explained that he didn’t want to make a “knee-jerk reaction” to what could have just been "17 hipsters in a microbrewery in Brooklyn".

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In the year that followed, Azaira spent time doing some research, speaking to others about racism, meeting Indian people and attending seminars.

Speaking to the Armchair Expert podcast, hosted by actors Dax Sheppard and Monica Padman, he said he realised he’d had “a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years".

While he insists that the character of Apu was created with good intentions, he said the show was part of "structural racism".

"I really didn't know any better,” he said. “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.

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"Just because there were good intentions it doesn't mean there weren't real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for."

He went on to apologise to podcast co-host, Monica Padman, who is Indian-American, stating: “"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 apologise."

Supporting diverse casting

The actor told the podcast that his decision to step down from voicing Apu in the show came after visiting his son’s school.

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He said: “I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input.

"A 17-year-old boy… 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."

Azaira still voices several characters in The Simpsons, but is now a supporter of more diverse casting.

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He said: "I have people say to me, 'Oh does this mean you can't play Wiggum because you're not a real cop?' That's just ridiculous.

"If it's a character of colour, there's not the same level of opportunity there.

“The first argument is, if it's an Indian character, Latin character or Black character, please let's have that person voice the character.

"It's more authentic, they might also bring their experience of their culture to it - and let's not take away jobs from people who don't have enough."

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