Hank Azaria has provided the voice for The Simpsons' Apu for nearly 30 years, with the character more recently catching criticism for the stereotypical portrayal of an Indian convenience store clerk. The series' producers have avoided addressing the documentary The Problem with Apu from comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu, which takes issue with the stereotype due to how few South Asian representations in entertainment exist. Azaria has confirmed that the show will "definitely address" the issue in some capacity.
"I think it's really important when people express themselves about racial issues, what they feel is unfair or upsetting or distressing or makes them angry, sad or hurt," Azaria shared at the Television Critics Association press event. "The most important thing to do is listen, try to understand, try to sympathize, which is what I'm doing. I know that The Simpsons guys are doing that too; they're giving it a lot of thought, and we've discussed a little bit. They will definitely address — maybe publicly, certainly creatively within the context of the show — what they want to do, if anything, with the character."
Azaria, who is not of South Asian descent, shared how deeply the issue seemed to have been affecting him.
"The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on The Simpsons, or the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing, especially in post-9/11 America," Azaria confessed. "The idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally. It's a character I've done for 29 years now, and I've done it with a lot of love, and joy, and pride. That certainly wasn't the intent. The intent was to make people laugh and bring joy. For it to cause suffering or pain in any way, it's disturbing, actually."
In addition to Azaria crafting the voice of the caricature, issues have been raised about the character implying that people of South Asian descent might only be capable of running a convenience store.
"I see him as having a lot of wonderful qualities and great assets," Azaria told TMZ last month. "As far as The Simpsons is concerned, it's often a fine line between what's comedy and what's offensive and insulting and upsetting. The Simpsons over the years have been pretty humorously offensive to all manner of people — Republicans, Brazilians, presidents, high school principals, Italians — and they take a lot of pride over there in not apologizing for any of that. I think they've done a really good job of being, shall we say, uniformly offensive without being outright hurtful."
The Simpsons airs Sunday nights at 8:00 PM ET on Fox.
[H/T Entertainment Weekly]