Voice acting legend Hank Azaria has gone on record multiple times to publicly disassociate himself from one of the many characters he portrayed on the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons.
For years, both Azaria and the show itself have received condemnation over the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
While the show is full of stereotypes, ranging from the neurotic Mexican Bumblebee Man to the uneducated redneck Cletus the slack-jawed yokel (both voiced by Azaria), none has sparked more outrage than the friendly neighborhood businessman Apu who runs the Kwik-E-Mart.
Many Indian and non-Indian fans of the show enjoyed the character for being one of the more well-rounded characters in the huge cast of Springfield citizens.
However, many others have felt uncomfortable with his stereotypical Indian accent and portrayal as a penny-pinching convenience store owner. And as it turns out, Azaria himself wasn’t comfortable with the character either, and has refused to provide his voice for several years.
In a recent podcast with Dax Shepard, Azaria opened up about his feelings on the character and voice acting profession at large.
“I really do apologize. It’s important,” Azaria said. “I apologize 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 apologize. And sometimes I do.”
Earlier in the podcast, Azaria recounted an emotional experience where one of his son’s classmates at school tearfully implored him not to voice the character anymore. Although the student had never watched an episode of The Simpsons, he felt that even the name ‘Apu’ had become a slur.
Now Azaria supports casting only voice actors and actresses that match the race, ethnic background, and skin color of the characters they portray.
As part of his commitment to that cause, he stepped aside from voicing Homer Simpsons’ black co-worker Carl Carlson. The character is now voiced by black actor Alex Désert.
The practice is quickly becoming an industry standard at this point, with other minority Simpsons characters such as Dr. Hibbert being recast, as well as characters in other animated shows such as Family Guy and Central Park.
Still, some in Hollywood have spoken out against political correctness in the industry. Chinese actress Joan Chen of Twin Peaks fame has voiced concern that being overly politically correct leads to suppression of creative freedom.