(NewsNation Now) — Hank Azaria has given a voice to dozens of characters on “The Simpsons” over the decades, but in January 2020, he announced he would no longer do one in particular: Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
His decision came amid growing conversations over race and after the 2017 documentary “The Problem with Apu” elevated decades-old discussions about whether the character perpetuated harmful stereotypes.
“It sent me on a journey of discovery which I encourage every person in this country — certainly every white person in this country — to go on,” Azaria said.
Watch Hank Azaria’s complete conversation with Ashleigh Banfield .
Azaria admits he bristled at the criticism at first. Not wanting to take a “knee-jerk” action based on public pressure, Azaria says it took him years to make his decision.
“For most people, it’s just blind spots; it’s not considering what the consequences might be, the effect it might have had on people of color — whether they’re Indian or Latin or Black, whatever part of this culture,” Azaria said.
Looking back, Azaria said while he did the characters with love and to the best of his ability, they were created in a time when many in the media “didn’t think twice” about caricaturing or parodying different ethnicities.
As a Jewish person, he said if someone performed the only Jewish character on TV not from that community, he knows he probably wouldn’t like it.
“The character of Apu was really the only representation of Indian people in American culture, really the only one in pop culture for 20 solid years,” Azaria said.
According to Azaria, the consequences weren’t clear until decades later, after Indian people who grew up with Apu could share what it was like for them.
“Eventually, I came out on the side that actually there was some harm done; with the best of intentions, no matter how funny it was and much love I tried to put into it,” Azaria said.
Even though “The Simpsons” makes fun of everybody, Azaria said he concluded voicing Apu was different from doing an Italian or Irish accent like he does on the show.
As a white person, it is easier for him to pass through different situations and not have people assume he sounds like those stereotypes.
“I can escape that because as a white person I can assimilate, I can blend, but Indian people in this culture can’t do that — they’re immediately identified as Indian, and they’d hear it — are you Apu, does your father sound like Apu, do you work at a 7/11?”
In the end, Azaria said he thought it was important to create space for new voices to take part.
“Let’s leave room for people of color to voice themselves… let them quite literally have their voice back,” Azaria said.