The Simpsons has caused more than one controversy over the years on Fox, but a show doesn't run for 31+ seasons without finding ways to adapt to changing times, and now a big change is coming to the series. Hank Azaria, who has been voicing Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon since 1990, is stepping down from the role after years of growing protests that Apu is an inaccurate and offensive portrayal of an Indian immigrant in America.
Hank Azaria shared the news with /Film, saying this:
All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s someway to transition it or something. What they’re going to do with the character is their call.
Hank Azaria voices several characters for The Simpsons, including the unfortunate Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, and Carl Carlson, among many others, ever since the series began back in 1989, so he's been a major part of the show for a very long time. His statement that he won't voice Apu anymore comes after rumors of Apu being written out of the series began to circulate, although showrunner Al Jean debunked those rumors back in 2018.
The controversy around the Hank Azaria-voiced character began to grow with the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu that delved into stereotypes against people of Indian and South Asian heritage and gave a larger platform to complaints about Apu's portrayal on The Simpsons.
Hank Azaria actually weighed in on the documentary in late 2017, stating that the doc "makes some really interesting points" and "it's really upsetting" that Apu was upsetting and hurtful to anybody, even saying that a conversation about Apu is "worth having." So, does this latest news mean that Apu will be written The Simpsons without Azaria voicing him?
Well, the longtime voice of Apu shared in 2018 that he would be "perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new," adding that he wanted to see Indian and South Asian writers in the room to inform "whatever new direction" Apu might take. Hank Azaria went on in his recent interview to share that the decision for him to stop voicing Apu was mutual:
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
Will Apu the character be written out of The Simpsons? The show has killed major characters before, but I can't see anybody at The Simpsons deciding the way to address the protests against the character's portrayal would be to kill him off. He could just never appear again. Alternately, Apu could be recast with a voice actor of Indian or South Asian heritage, and the writing could go in a different direction, as Hank Azaria suggested.
To see what happens next on The Simpsons, tune in to Fox on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET for new episodes in the 2020 winter TV lineup.