While “The Simpsons” has sidelined Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian immigrant owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, until a new voice actor can be found, creator Matt Groening says he’s still proud of the character and hopes to bring him back for “something ambitious” in future seasons.
“I think the Apu stories are fantastic, and he’s one of the most nuanced characters on a silly two-dimensional cartoon show. So, yeah, I’m proud of Apu,” Groening told USA Today.
While Apu has long been a fan favorite on “The Simpsons,” his impact on pop culture and depictions of Indian people in media came under scrutiny because of the 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu.” In it, director Hari Kondabolu, himself a lifelong Simpsons fan, reflects on his personal feelings for a character that for many years was the only depiction of Indian and Hindu culture on American television. But Kondabolu also argues that Apu has been a double-edged sword for Indian-Americans, as the stereotypical voice used by voice actor Hank Azaria has become fodder for racist bullying.
As part of the documentary, Kondabolu interviewed several South Asian comedians, including Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, and Kal Penn, the latter of whom said that he has a distate for “The Simpsons” because of how negative stereotypes connected to Apu impacted both his childhood and career. The mockery faced by Penn because of Apu’s catchphrase “Thank you, come again” was even explored in one of Penn’s most famous films, “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”
In January 2020, Azaria announced that he would no longer voice Apu, and “The Simpsons” producers have since announced that non-white characters on the show would no longer be voiced by white voice actors. This includes Dr. Hibbert, a Black character, who will now be voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson after being voiced by longtime cast member Harry Shearer for over 30 years.
Groening told USA Today that the voice acting change was not his idea but that he was “fine with it.”
“Who can be against diversity? So it’s great. However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters. They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of,” he said. “To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices, do multiple voices. That’s part of the fun of animation, However, to be more inclusive and hire more people, I’m completely in favor of that.”
As for Apu, a new voice actor to replace Azaria has not been chosen yet, but Groening says that he wants to do something with the character depending on “if we can make the stories work.”
“The Simpsons” airs Sundays on Fox with classic episodes streaming on Disney+.