In Depth

Is Apu racist? The Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria ‘happy to step aside’

Actor’s response at odds with the cartoon’s jibe at critics who say Indian character is offensive

The Simpsons actor Hank Azaria has said he would be willing to stop voicing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, amid mounting accusations that the show’s characterisation is racist.

Apu’s stereotypical mannerisms and heavy accent - as performed by Azaria, who is white - have long been a sore subject in the Indian-American community, but in recent months the debate has attracted mainstream attention.

Speaking on US chat show The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night, Azaria addressed the controversy, saying his “eyes have been opened” by the conversation around the character.

He added that he would like to see Indian or South Asian writers shape the future of Apu, which could include a change of voice actor.

“I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or help transition it into something new,” he said.

Azaria, who voices dozens of characters on the show, including Chief Wiggum, Moe Szyslak, Comic Book Guy and Dr Nick, has played the role of the Indian convenience store owner since his first appearance in 1990.

In the documentary, Kondabolu and interviewees including actors Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn and Maulik Pancholy shared memories of playground taunts.

“After a while, you’d watch The Simpsons on a Sunday and you’d get a sense of how you’d be made fun of at school on Monday, based on what Apu did in the latest episode,” Kondabolu told BBC Culture in 2017.

Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry have also spoken of the lingering impact of the character on their adult lives.

Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani told Vulture journalist Mallika Rao how he had repeatedly encountered “a casting agent asking him to drop his actual accent to do an ‘Apu accent’”.

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