Hank Azaria: ‘The Simpsons’ Actor Is Planning Seminars to Make Amends for Apu
Hank Azaria decided to stop voicing the character Apu on The Simpsons. The show also recast other characters of color like Dr. Hibbert. Azaria isn’t finished dealing with the aftermath of his controversial Simpsons character, though. The prolific voice actor, who does hundreds of voices on The Simpsons, said he plans to continue using the Apu controversy as a teachable moment.
Azaria was a guest on the April 12 episode of the Armchair Expert podcast. He told hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman he has plans for educational seminars about institutional racism in show business.
Hank Azaria wants to make amends for Apu on ‘The Simpsons’
Earlier in the episode, Azaria discussed his experience in Alcoholics Anonymous with Shepard. He credited the program with teaching him to listen, and used that process to educate himself about what was wrong with a White actor doing Apu’s voice. Now, Azaria wants to make amends.
“Shame is I’m terrible,” Azaria said. “[Shame says], ‘I don’t deserve to live, I’m a bad person.’ This is what drives us to drink. Guilt is I did wrong, I’m not wrong, I did wrong and I can be accountable for that. I can make amends and I can be responsible for that and try to make it right. That applies to stuff I did when I was drunk. It applies to my blind spots with this character. That was the journey I went on and am still on.”
Amends are the next step in Azaria’s journey. The first step was deciding to quit, and another step was apologizing for doing a stereotypical Indian accent.
“I really do apologize,” Azaria said. “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 down to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize, and sometimes I do.”
Hank Azaria wants others to learn what he learned about Apu
Azaria said he spoke with Indian people, experts in racism and more to learn about their perspective. He said he came to understand that as a White man, he could not fully appreciate what Indian people experienced.
Part of my amends for all this is I’m continuing to educate myself. In fact, I’ve hooked up with a group called The Soul Focused Group. One of the best seminars that I took was with those guys. We are in the process of creating a nonprofit where we try to bring this work. The journey I went on, I want to share with people of educating myself in this area. I’m working with them to actually become a facilitator, a trainer of these seminars. I feel I have a unique story to offer with my journey with this Apu stuff. So we’re working on that. We’re going to come out with that in the course of this year.Hank Azaria, Armchair Expert podcast, 4/12/21
One heartbreaking example of a conversation about ‘The Simpsons’
Azaria shared one example of one of the talks he had over the years. He spoke at his son’s school, and a teenager who wasnt even a Simpsons fan spoke to him.
“I was talking to the Indian students there, I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “17-year-old boy, maybe a year ago, two, maybe three years, he’s never seen The Simpsons. Doesn’t know from it really but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that this is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country, still.”
What the boy asked Azaria will stay with him forever.
“With tears in his eyes he said to me, and it was so sweet the way he put it, he said, ‘Will you please tell the writers in Hollywood that what they do and what they come up with really matters in people’s lives? It has consequences.’” Azaria recalled. “I was like, ‘Yes, my friend, I will tell him that.”
Source: Armchair Expert podcast