The character of Apu was voiced by white actor Hank Azaria and appeared as a regular fixture on the series. After the backlash, Azaria appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and said he was willing to step aside from the character. He told the host, “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened. I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room…including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
After stepping away from the role in early 2020, Azaria is now finally apologising for the harm this character caused the South Asian community. In an interview with Dax Shepard and Monica Padman of Armchair Expert, Azaria said: “I really do apologise. It’s important. I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise. And sometimes I do.”
He then went on to describe a number of interactions that revealed just how harmful his deception of the character was. “I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “A 17-yea-old…he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
It’s hard to believe that despite Kondabolu highlighting the damage of Apu in 2017, it took almost four years for someone to apologise for the character. The Simpsons is still yet to recast Apu and it was only last year that the show’s producers announced that white actors would no longer be voicing non-white characters.