The Simpsons caught some serious flack last month for an episode that made a half-assed attempt at tackling the controversy surrounding its character, Apu—the show's stereotyped South Asian character who's voiced by a middle-aged white guy. Instead of addressing the problem head-on, the show snuck an awkward shrug of an apology into a scene about Marge's favorite kids' book, a patently offensive tome she has to rewrite to make PC.
Critics panned the scene as lazy and insincere—including Hari Kondabolu, whose powerful 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu dragged the debate over the character into the limelight. Now, it looks like even Hank Azaria—the actor who voices Apu—thought the apology was pretty awful.
Azaria sat down with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show Tuesday night, where the two dug into the Apu controversy. As Azaria tells it, he didn't have anything to do with the writing of the apology scene—and what's more, he doesn't agree with its suggestion that "people need to lighten up or grow a thicker skin" when it comes to Apu.
"That’s certainly not the way I feel about it," Azaria said. "That’s definitely not the message I want to send."
In The Problem with Apu, Kondabolu explores how the character's stereotypical persona had real-life consequences—how Apu has been used to mock and bully folks who happen to look like him. It's an issue Azaria addressed head-on in his interview, saying he'd only ever wanted to use Apu to "spread laughter and joy."
"The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad," Azaria said. "The idea that it's brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize people, it's upsetting, genuinely."
Aside from putting that weird Simpsons apology to shame, Azaria apparently impressed Kondabolu, who thanked him for what he said on Twitter.
Azaria took the conversation a step further, telling Colbert that he'd like to bring some South Asian voices to The Simpsons' writers room, or even find a South Asian actor to replace him as Apu—a move he said "certainly seems like the right thing to do." With more and more South Asian actors landing leading roles, and speaking out about racism and the problems with being type-cast in the film industry, at least some folks in Hollywood are listening.
UPDATE 4/25: This post has been updated to include Hari Kondabolu's response.
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