In January, Hank Azaria revealed that he will no longer provide the voice of Apu in The Simpsons. The producers of the long-running animated series have now provided a statement to The New York Times in regards to Azaria vacating the role. "We respect Hank's journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character," the statement reads. The producers remained vague on whether Azaria will be replaced in the role, or if Apu will be removed from the series entirely. Their statement in that regard reads, "Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned."
Azaria indicated that he is unaware of future plans for Apu when he first announced he'd be leaving the role. "What they're going to do with the character is their call," Azaria said. "It's up to them and they haven't sorted it out yet. All we've agreed on is I won't do the voice anymore."
Azaria's decision comes after the documentary The Problem With Apu brought the complex feelings that many Indian Americans have towards the character to a wider discussion. More and more, the character is thought of as a dated and racist caricature.
"Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn't want to participate in it anymore," Azaria tells The New York Times. "It just didn't feel right… What happened with this character is a window into an important issue. It's a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can."
The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and the show's producers have not publicly commented on the criticisms of Apu, but the subject was brought up in the 2018 episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished." In the episode, Marge and Lisa Simpson discuss the characterization of Apu, but the episode offers what fans felt was, at best, a noncommittal resolution.
Azaria won't be leaving The Simpsons entirely. Apu is just one of many characters that he has voiced on the show throughout its 20-year history. He also voices Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, and Carl Carlson. Azaria has indicated in the past that he was open to the idea of stepping away from the role of Apu.
"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 in 2018. "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."