Hank Azaria Deserves Praise for Stepping Down as Apu

Matthew Loffhagen
CBS
(Photo: CBS)

Hank Azaria seems to, by and large, have been more affected by “The Problem With Apu” than any of the writers on “The Simpsons”.

Perhaps this is because the documentary goes out of its way to frame Azaria himself specifically as a big part of the titular problem with “Simpsons” character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Maybe he’s received a lot of backlash as a result of the rising controversy surrounding “The Simpsons”.

Or, perhaps Azaria has simply done what more of the “Simpsons” creative team should have already done. Maybe he’s reevaluated his thirty-year-old joke to decide whether or not it’s worth defending.

Or, indeed, whether it was ever actually all that appropriate to begin with.

For whatever reason, Azaria has spoken out about his role with Apu, and it seems like the voice actor is done with the character. Instead, he wants to take the advice of prominent voices within the Indian and South Asian communities. This, he hopes, would breathe a little more diversity into “The Simpsons”.

Said Azaria:

“I have given this a lot of thought, and as I say, my eyes have been opened. And I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people, in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been. And, as you know, in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the room – not in a token way – genuinely informing whatever new direction this character take, including how it is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside or help transition it into something new.”

Yes, Hank! Thank you for doing what the producers of “The Simpsons” should have already done themselves! Thank you for actually give real, genuine thought to the marginalized voices that the show has been misrepresenting for decades.

I know that a lot of commenters consider this to be the worst thing in the world. How dare anyone challenge the mighty institution that is “The Simpsons”? Why should this beautiful, perfect show ever have to change its ways? How can the series remain funny if it’s no longer appropriate to poke fun at people?

Apu wasn’t ever all that offensive to begin with, right? People who are offended should just let it go!

As Hari Kondabolu notes in “The Problem With Apu”, he has let it go. For 28 years.

Now more than ever, it’s important for American comedy creators to consider what kind of message their work is sending out.

Azaria’s initial intent with Apu probably wasn’t particularly malicious. Even so, it’s crucial that we all look at the way we engage with stereotypes.

How to Save “The Simpsons”

I think that Hank Azaria should be applauded for rethinking his position on Apu.

That said, I don’t think his position is particularly praiseworthy. Considering the needs of others should be the basic minimum for people in positions of power, including those who are empowered by the media. I would love to live in a world where Azaria’s decision to speak out about Apu is in no way noteworthy, because everyone treats each other with this basic level of respect.

As that world is obviously a fantasy, let’s heap praise on Azaria. Let’s sing his name from the rooftops, and show “The Simpsons” writers the kind of positive press that can be generated when someone tries to foster diversity in the media.

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, Azaria can convince “The Simpsons” to make the necessary change for greater inclusivity.

Apu
Source: Fox

Otherwise (and this is the important bit) the show is going to die.

Audience tastes are changing. I don’t believe that, in its current (incredibly white, entitled) state, “The Simpsons” can continue indefinitely. More and more viewers are going to start switching off, or finding comedy that’s broader in terms of its appeal and inclusivity.

Contrary to some loudmouthed commenters, Azaria’s statement hasn’t damaged “The Simpsons”. If anything, he might be in the process of helping to save it from complete irrelevance.