Over the last few weeks, The Problem with Apu, a documentary by comedian Hari Kondabolu, has sparked a conversation about the racism behind famed The Simpsons character Apu, as well as the character’s impact on South Asian representation today. Throughout the film, Kondabolu attempts to interview Hank Azaria, the (white) voice actor behind Apu. Despite initially agreeing to a discussion through a third party, Azaria backed out, claiming that he was worried Kondabolu would twist his words.
Well, Azaria apparently did get around to watching the movie, and had something to say about it when he was approached at the side of a curb and directly asked about it by a TMZ reporter this weekend. Classic.
“I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot at The Simpsons to think about, and we really are thinking about it,” Azaria said. “And definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by any character or vocal performance is really upsetting that that was offensive or hurtful to anybody, and I think it’s an important conversation and one definitely worth having, so thanks for asking.”
When pressed, Azaria added, “We’re just really thinking about it, it’s a lot to digest.”
Best cast scenario, Azaria and the team at The Simpsons are actually taking the documentary’s points into consideration and taking measures to address the character in a more meaningful way. But given that Azaria’s response seems to come straight from the school of non-apologies, putting the onus on the aggrieved party, I’m not sure the Simpsons team is thinking about this as critically as they need to be. And Azaria’s seeming contrition is a big contrast with his refusal to talk to Kondabolu in the first place.
Kondabolu responded to Azaria’s remarks on Twitter:
Writing off the response to having an entire race written off in pop culture as simply being “offended” not only evades accountability, but it also indicates that Azaria missed the point of the film. The first 10 minutes are dedicated to going beyond the idea of “offensiveness” and looking at the serious outcomes of having one entertaining but racist character define millions of people in America, and over a billion people all over the world. Thanks, Hank!