Hank Azaria will no longer be the voice of Apu, the Indian convenience store owner, on The Simpsons, according to a statement given by Azaria at the end of today’s Brockmire panel at the Television Critics Association press tour.
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is one of the oldest characters on The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989. But while the oddness of having a white man voice an Indian character with an exaggerated accent had certainly been remarked upon over the show’s 30-plus years on the air—the character once declined to join a bowling team called The Stereotypes—it wasn’t until comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu that the racist legacy of the character became a full-fledged controversy. The controversy provoked a dedicated Simpsons episode that attempted to dismiss Apu’s critics, but creator Matt Groening’s suggestion that people concerned about audio brownface were merely “pretend[ing] to be offended” only fanned the flames. At one point, there were rumors that the character would be written off the show, although the rumors were then quashed by Simpsons showrunner Al Jean.
Although The Simpsons has not made any official statement about the future of Apu, according to Azaria, the decision for him to discontinue voicing Apu was a shared one. “What they’re going to do with the character is their call,” Azaria said, responding to a question from Slashfilm’s Fred Topel. “It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.” Azaria previously appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and expressed his willingness to step aside.
The fate of Apu is in the hands of The Simpsons’ writers. With the put-on accent gone, the possibilities are endless, although (as discussed in a Slate interview with Kondabolu) hopefully they don’t just kill off the only Indian character on the show, one who is beloved in his own right.