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Hank Azaria Responds To ‘Simpsons’ Racism Controversy
Hank Azaria has responded to the documentary The Problem With Apu, which makes the case that his beloved Simpsons character perpetuates racial stereotypes. The documentary—which was released last year—is framed by comedian Hari Kondabolu’s many, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to speak with Azaria directly.
Days after the documentary’s release, Azaria said in an interview with TMZ, “I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot to think about and we really are thinking about it… Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by it, or by any character or vocal performance, it’s really upsetting that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.”
During an appearance at the Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 12 for his IFC series Brockmire, Azaria gave a thorough and thoughtful response to a question about the documentary. “The idea that anybody young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased—or worse—based on the character of Apu is distressing,” he began. “Especially in post-9/11 America, the idea anybody was marginalized based on it was very upsetting to me, personally and professionally. It’s a character that I’ve done for 29 years now, and I’ve done it with a lot of love and joy and with pride. That certainly wasn’t the intent. The intent was to make people laugh and to bring joy. The idea that it caused any kind of pain or suffering in any way is disturbing.”
Azaria emphasized that he had never seen the character of Apu as one-dimensional, and that over the years The Simpsons had been “pretty humorously offensive to all manner of people. Republicans, Brazilians, presidents, school principals, Italians, you know it. They take a lot of pride over there in not apologizing for any of that, and I think over the years they’ve done a really good job of being uniformly offensive without being outright hurtful.”
With that being said, though, Azaria acknowledged that both he and The Simpsons’ writers had taken notice of the points raised in Kondabol’s documentary. “As far as what is going to happen with the character going forward, it’s really not up to me. I think it’s really important when people express themselves about racial issues, what they feel is upsetting or distressing or makes them angry, the most important thing to do is listen, try to understand, try to sympathize. I know the Simpsons guys are doing that, too. They will definitely address, maybe publicly but certainly creatively, what they want to do, if anything, differently with the character.”
In an interview with Esquire.com, Kondabolu said that he was hoping for “a real conversation” with Azaria to conclude the film. “I wanted people to see it and say, “Oh this is two adults trying to work through something, but they’re funny about it and it’s kinda awkward, but they work through it and come to a compromise.” Even if there wasn’t a clean resolution, I wanted to show the importance of those awkward conversations, especially in this era—that’s so crucial.”