Wednesday 23 January 2019

'My eyes have been opened' - Hank Azaria willing to step aside from Apu over The Simpsons controversy

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Hank Azaria during Tuesday\'s April 24, 2018 show. Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Hank Azaria during Tuesday\'s April 24, 2018 show. Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS
Hank Azaria
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Hank Azaria has said he would consider stepping aside from voicing The Simpsons' character Apu following the recent controversy.

A recent documentary called The Problem with Apu saw comedian Hari Kondabolu accuse the animated series of racial stereotyping.

He previously said the character led a lot of children who were born and raised in the US to feel "non-American" and had resulted in bullying and racism.

The Simpons responded by addressing the issue in a recent episode, but their response was deemed unsatisfactory by many viewers.

The character of Apu in The Simpsons
The character of Apu in The Simpsons

Speaking on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Azaria said his eyes had been opened and that he wanted to see more diversity in The Simpsons' writers' room.

"I've given this a lot of thought - really a lot of thought - and, as I say, my eyes have been opened," he said.

"I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been.

"As you know in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers' room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the 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. It just not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do, to me."

And Hank admitted it has made him feel "sad" that his portrayal of Apu has brought "pain and suffering" to others.

"The idea of anyone, young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad. It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people."

Regarding the recent episode of The Simpsons, in which the characters of Marge and Lisa suggested the issue would be "dealt with at a later date", "if at all", Azaria said he had nothing to do with writing, or voicing, that episode.

Read more: Here's how The Simpsons responded to the Apu controversy

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...yeah, that's certainly not the way I feel about it. And that is definitely not the message that I want to send," he added.

New Yorker Hank Azaria has voiced the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon since the show's first season in 1990.

Read more: Pat Stacey: The Simpsons is so out of touch it's actually sad 

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