After years of saying he was done, actor Hank Azaria definitively confirmed to the New York Times that he will no longer voice Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the character on The Simpsons he has voiced since the show started in 1989. In recent years, Apu has become a subject of controversy, with the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu making the case that the convenience store-owning, stereotypically accented immigrant character is a racist depiction of Indian people created by white people.
Comedian and documentarian Hari Kondabolu and other critics have suggested that the show change Apu by recasting his role with an actor of Indian descent (Azaria is of Sephardic Jewish descent), giving him a new job, and/or developing his children into full characters. Instead, Simpsons producers responded by essentially writing Apu out of the show. He has not had a speaking line since 2017. And now that Azaria has confirmed he will not voice the character again, it seems likely that Apu will never be heard from again.
This is not what Apu's critics want. "Silencing Apu is a step sideways," Castlevaniaexecutive producer Adi Shankar, who has been a vocal critic of The Simpsons' treatment of Apu, told The Hollywood Reporter. "It doesn't undo the damage, address the damage, or benefit the show's 'creativity.' It just removes another brown face from TV."
Instead, Shankar thinks Apu should get a spin-off that will be able to deal with this conversation head-on. "We're arguing over racial constructs, this is a perfect opportunity to deconstruct it, to dissolve it, and bring our species together," Shankar said.
Kondabolu has also said that it was never his intention to get Apu off the show, and that he hopes the show figures out a better way to use him. "If Hank Azaria is indeed no longer doing the voice of Apu, I do hope they keep the character & let a very talented writing staff do something interesting with him. If not to better the show, then to at least spare me some death threats," Kondabolu tweeted in January. "My documentary The Problem with Apu was not made to get rid of a dated cartoon character, but to discuss race, representation & my community (which I love very much). It was also about how you can love something (like the Simpsons) & still be critical about aspects of it (Apu)."
Creator Matt Groening has said that The Simpsons has no plans to recast Apu, and showrunner Al Jean has previously said that Shankar does not work for The Simpsons and does not speak for the show. And most recently, producers have not said anything substantial about Apu's future either way, telling the New York Times "Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned."
The Simpsons airs Sundays at 8/7c on Fox. It's available to stream on Disney+.