The Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria says that he wants to apologize to "every Indian person" for his portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Global News reports.
Azaria, who is white, performed the voice of the Indian character and owner of the Kwik-E-Mart for most of the show's run.
"I really do apologize," Azaria said on the Armchair Expert podcast on Monday. "I know you weren't asking for that, but it's important. 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."
Azaria attributed his decision to abandon the character to his sobriety. "If I had not gotten sober, I promise you it wouldn't have taken much wine for me to be in my feelings one night and fire off a tweet that I felt justified in firing off. Some kind of defensive, white-fragile tweet."
Azaria also said that hearing from Indian-Americans helped shape his view on the matter.
"I was speaking at my son's school… I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input," he said. "A 17-year-old — he's never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It's practically a slur at this point."
Controversy began to surround Apu, and Azaria's portrayal of him, following the 2017 release of the documentary The Problem With Apu. The film criticized the character as a stereotype which led to the bullying of Indian-Americans, and compared the portrayal of the character by Azaria to blackface.
The documentary received both praise and criticism, with critics often arguing that Apu, a hard-working and respectable character in comparison to the more lazy and boorish personalities portrayed on the show, is a much more nuanced character than the documentary would suggest. Some also questioned the specific focus on Apu, noting that characters such as Groundskeeper Willie and Cookie Kwan are also highly stereotypical of their respective ethnic backgrounds.
The Simpsons staff, including creator Matt Groening, also criticized the documentary when it was released, with Groening arguing that critics like to "pretend they're offended." The writers also ran an episode mocking the documentary,
Azaria ultimately stepped aside from the role in January 2020, with The Simpsons announcing six months later at the height of the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots that the show would no longer have non-white characters being portrayed by white voice actors.
"If it's an Indian character, or a Latinx character, or a Black character, please, let's have that person voice the character," said Azaria, who also voices a Springfield police chief, scientist, and doctor despite never having held any of those jobs. "It's more authentic, they'll bring their experience to it. Let's not take jobs away from people who don't have enough."