"I needed to shut up... and listen and learn."
Hank Azaria has said that he feels the need to apologise to every Indian person in the United States for voicing Apu in The Simpsons.
On the Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria said the show had contributed to “structural racism” and that he did not know any better during the nearly 30 years he voiced the character.
In the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, the character was criticised for promoting racist stereotypes.
However, Azaria and the show’s creators appeared to dismiss the criticism.
The controversy was addressed in an episode in 2018 when Lisa Simpson asks “what can you do” when a character which had been beloved for decades had suddenly become politically incorrect.
That same year, Azaria appeared on The Stephen Colbert Show where he said he would be happy to stand aside and let someone else voice Apu.
Hank Azaria has since listened to the concerns of US Indians and came to realise that Apu was a problem.
He said: “I needed to shut up… and listen and learn. And that took a while.
“This was not a two-week process: I needed to educate myself a lot.”
Apu is an Indian immigrant who runs the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store in the show. He first appeared in The Simpsons in 1990.
On the Armchair Expert, Hank Azaria said Apu had been created with good intentions.
He said: “I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think about it.
“I was unware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens.”
“Just because there were good intentions it doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for.”
At first, Azaria did not know if he should stop doing Apu, as he did not want to make a “knee-jerk reaction” to what could have been “17 hipsters in a microbrewery in Brooklyn”.
He therefore spent a year speaking with US Indian groups to educate himself.
Crediting his experience of Alcoholics Anonymous, Azaria said:
“I needed to educate myself a lot.
“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. Boy, was I glad I had a system in place where I could look at this thing.”
Azaria also apologised to the podcast’s co-host, Monica Padman, who is US Indian.
He said: “I know you weren’t asking for that but it’s important.
“I apologise for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels I need to go round to every single Indian person in this country and apologise.
“I realised I have had a date with destiny with this thing for 31 years.”