In the documentary The Problem with Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu made the case that for decades, The Simpsons’ Indian caricature was the only form of media representation that South Asians had. Unfortunately, Kondabolu argues, as a yogi, a PhD holder, and convenience store owner, Apu embodies multiple stereotypes about Indians. He’s also voiced by Hank Azaria, who Kondabolu points out sounds like “an impression of a white guy making fun of my dad.” Through the film, which debuted on November 19th on truTV and is now on VOD, Kondabolu created a larger conversation about the character.
On Sunday, Azaria responded, after a TMZ interviewer ambushed him with a camera at the Los Angeles International Airport. Azaria said he’s aware of The Problem with Apu: “I think the documentary made some really interesting points, and gave us a lot at The Simpsons to think about,” he said. “And we really are thinking about it.”
Azaria continued: “Definitely anybody who was hurt or offended by it, by any character or vocal performance, it’s really upsetting that that was hurtful to anybody. And I think it’s an important conversation, and one definitely worth having, so thanks for asking.”
So what do The Simpsons’ writers have planned for Apu? Azaria says nothing has been finalized. “It’s a lot to digest,” he said.
Azaria has voiced Apu since 1990. The Problem with Apu says he was the one who initially came up with the Indian accent for the previously unnamed convenience store clerk. Azaria had only acknowledged the controversy over Apu once in the past, in a 2013 Huffington Post piece: “I’ve never really talked about it,” he told the site. “I know it’s a touchy subject… I do understand why people could have been offended or upset, and I’m sorry for that.”
Azaria even avoids commenting in the documentary itself, although Kondabolu spends much of the film trying to contact him through an agent.
After the TMZ video posted on Sunday, Kondabolu responded on Twitter with the equivalent of a thinking emoji. Later, he elaborated in a longer tweet, hoping that Apu can evolve into a more thought-through character rather than being removed from the show.
To @TheSimpsons Writers: Please do NOT remove Apu from The Simpsons. Killing him is lazy writing & an insult to the show’s legacy. Let him be upwardly mobile & own multiple Qwik E Marts. Let his kids talk. Plots have been repeating for years & tweaks provide tons of new stories.— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) December 4, 2017
Update December 5th 4PM ET: This article was updated to reflect that Hari Kondabolu is the creator and not the director of The Problem With Apu.