The TCA’s continued all week and one of the more interesting conversations arising this week was a revelation by Simpsons Star Hank Azaria, who voices the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, that he was troubled by concerns raised in Hari Kondabolu’s truTV documentary “The Problem With Apu.”
In the documentary short, Kondabolu accused the Simpsons, and Azaria of creating a racist character and explored the repercussions of Apu’s popularity by interviewing various comedians of South East Asian descent. Hari tried in vain (a la Michael Moore’s Roger & Me) to get Azaria to speak on the record about Apu. But Azaria declined to speak on the subject for the film, saying that he was uncomfortable making a statement that would be subject to a potentially damaging editing process. He said he would speak about the issue in a more neutral platform.
He finally addressed the issue directly during a TCA panel about IFC’s Brockmire, which also stars Azaria.
Deadline reported on Azaria’s comments which indicated concern about what he saw in the documentary. “The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased, or worse, based on the character of Apu in The Simpsons, the voice, or any other other tropes of the character, is distressing,” he said, “and especially post 9/11 in America, the idea that anybody was marginalized based on it, or had a hard time, is very upsetting to me, personally and professionally.”
He goes on to say that he has loved playing the character for 29 years now, and only intented to make people laugh. “That it caused any kind of suffering or pain in any way, it’s disturbing actually. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I don’t see the character of Apu as one dimensional, I see him as having a lot of wonderful qualities and great assets and, you know, as far as The Simpsons is concerned, with comedy as you know, it’s often a fine line between what’s comedy and what’s offensive and insulting and upsetting. ”
He defends the character only to the extent that The Simpsons has been what he calls “uniformly offensive without being outright hurtful” in that the show has portrayed many stereotypes for comedic effect over the years, but was supportive of anyone who expresses their feelings on issues of race. “The most important thing is to listen and try to understand, to try to sympathize, which is what I’m doing. I know The Simpsons guys are doing that too.”
Although he couldn’t say whether any changes were in the works, he did say that it was being discussed.