Here's What Hank Azaria Had To Say About The Backlash To His 'Simpsons' Character Apu

"The idea that anybody was marginalized based on it ... was very upsetting to me."

Actor Hank Azaria has responded to criticism surrounding his portrayal of Indian character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons. A recent TruTV documentary called The Problem With Apu calls out the show's stereotypical depiction of the convenience store owner, including the fact that Azaria, who is not Indian, performs the character with an exaggerated accent.

According to The Wrap, Azaria responded to the backlash at a recent Television Critics Association panel. "The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu … it's distressing," he said, adding, "The idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally."

In The Problem With Apu, Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu delves into the problems surrounding Apu's characterization — including the bullying many people have faced because of it. Azaria reportedly declined a request to be interviewed for the project.

"Initially, I was so excited. Like, we have something," Kondabolu said of his reaction to the character on the NPR podcast Code Switch. "When you don't have anything, something is amazing. And then you realize, oh, that's not a good something to have. When you realize that, oh, my parents, I don't want them to be seen in public because they talk that way."

Azaria, who has voiced several Simpsons characters in its nearly 30-year run, went on to said that the producers have given "a lot of thought" to how the show could address the controversy, saying, "As far as what is going to happen with the character going forward, it's really not just up to me."

"They will definitely address — maybe publicly, but certainly within the context of the show — what they want to do, if anything, with the character," Azaria added.

In fact, the show has already touched on the issue in the past. In a 2016 episode titled "Much Apu About Something," Apu's nephew Jamshed (or "Jay") tells him, "You're my uncle and I love you, but you're a stereotype, man." As the A.V. Club notes, Jay was voiced by actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, who himself has criticized Apu's characterization.

"I think it's really important when people express themselves about racial issues — what they feel is unfair or upsetting or distressing, what makes them angry — the most important thing to do is listen, try to understand, try to sympathize," Azaria said during the panel. "Which is what I'm doing."

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