The future is uncertain for Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the owner/operator of the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store on The Simpsons. The character has become a point of contention in recent years, due to the stereotypical nature in which his Indian heritage has been portrayed over the past 31 seasons. Amidst the outcry, Hank Azaria recently told SlashFilm that he'll be stepping down from the role, which caused quite a reaction online.
"All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore unless there’s some way to transition it or something," Azaria said. However, he seemed to indicate the character might not be written out of the show altogether.
"What they’re going to do with the character is their call. 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. We all made the decision together. We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it."
Fans of the long-running animated series were divided about the decision.
"So sad," tweeted one viewer. "The Simpsons is in fact a very moral show. Apu is a character depicted with affection and easily outplays Homer in intelligence and work ethic. If the arts are now only to have characters who manage to avoid offending anyone, the arts are doomed." Another addressed Azaria directly, writing that he "did a fantastic job and Apu is one of my favorite characters in The Simpsons. I am an Indian and I was not one bit offended by your portrayal."
Others, however, praised Azaria's decision, with one fan tweeting that they "applaud this move and his position on this issue." Another supporter called it "the right move," but added, "MAN it took long enough."
While Apu has been on the show since its first season, the controversy around the character first gained national attention in 2017. That year, Hari Kondabolu released the documentary The Problem with Apu, which looked at the larger experience of how stereotypes affect minorities. After Azaria's announcement, the filmmaker also weighed in on Twitter.
If @HankAzaria 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 atleast spare me some death threats.— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) January 17, 2020
The Simpsons did address the controversy in 2018, albeit indirectly. The episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished" ends with Marge reading Lisa an edited version of The Princess in the Garden, telling her that "something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"