In the midst of the ongoing controversy surrounding the depiction of Apu on The Simpsons, actor Hank Azaria has offered to stop voicing the Indian-American character.
"I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or help transition [the character] into something new," he said Tuesday on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. "I really hope that's what The Simpsons does. Not only does it make sense it feels like the right thing to do."
The criticism over Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who's been featured in all of the animated comedy's 29 seasons, has existed for years but was recently the focus of a truTV documentary by Hari Kondabolu called The Problem with Apu. Kondabolu discusses the inherent problems of the character's stereotypical portrayal and how it influenced society's treatment of Indian-Americans.
Azaria acknowledged his part in the debate, telling host Stephen Colbert, "It has sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character going forward. Which is not so easy to answer. I've tried to express this before. 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. It was certainly not my intention, I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character. And the idea that it's brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize people, it's upsetting, genuinely."
The Simpsons did recently address the criticism, but in a way that put off many viewers. In the episode, Marge reads Lisa a revised version of a fairy tale she edited, and the two of them talk directly to the audience in drawing a parallel to the Apu criticism. Lisa speaks to the problem of shifting perspectives in art saying, “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The camera pans to a photo of Apu which has “Don’t have a cow, man!” written on it. Marge chimes in with, “Some things will be addressed at a later date,” to which Lisa quickly adds, “if at all.”
It felt like a dismissal of the criticism, and Azaria told Colbert, "That's not the way I feel about it, that's not the message I want to send." His primary suggestion to The Simpsons producers is to implement change at the source. In television, that's the writers' room. "As you know in television terms, 'listening to voices' means inclusion in the writers' room," Azaria continued. "I really want to see Indian and South Asian, writers in the writers' room, not in a token way, genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take. Including how it is voiced or not voiced. "
Considering Azaria voices a number of other characters on the show, dropping one character in favor of hiring an actor who might do the character more justice wouldn't mean a huge shift in his involvement. Now the onus is on the producers to either heed his advice or risk alienating more and more of the audience.