Hank Azaria Apologized for Playing Apu on ‘The Simpsons.’ I AcceptBreaking News
tags: racism, television, Asian American History, The Simpsons
“Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize,” actor Hank Azaria recently said on a podcast. The source of his remorse was the 30 years he spent voicing the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian immigrant Kwik-E-Mart clerk on “The Simpsons.”
The apology comes after years of complaints about the character. The debate was brought to the fore with the 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu.” In the film, Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu criticized the character and Azaria for perpetuating harmful racist stereotypes. Azaria announced last year that he would stop voicing Apu.
When I learned of the apology, I listened to the podcast. And much to my surprise, I cried.
As an Indian American actress, for me the shadow of Apu loomed larger in my life than I realized.
At auditions, it soon felt as if I was doing a version of a minstrel show — and for good reason. A character Peter Sellers played while wearing skin-darkening makeup — Hrundi V. Bakshi in the 1968 film “The Party” — inspired Azaria’s Apu. To work, I — an actual Indian American — was imitating a White man, who was imitating another White man, who lampooned my race in brownface.
Even when I came across an authentically and respectfully written accented character, I worried that I was still contributing to the perception of Indian Americans as perpetual foreigners, even though South Asians have been in the United States since the 1700s and generations of us were born here. I didn’t want to contribute to us being seen as “the other” or diminish our humanity. The weight of the responsibility for how I represented Indian Americans crushed me.
So I decided to refuse to play accented, stereotypical characters. I turned down auditions. I lost agents. I definitely suffered for the decision. But I’m still a working actor, which is no small thing, and every day that remains true feels like a gift.
I don’t regret my choices. I’m just bitter about how few I had.
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