The Simpsons was somewhat slow to embrace the trend of animated shows moving away from having white actors voice non-white characters, to the point that the show actively pushed back against the shift initially, but—to his credit—voice actor Hank Azaria was quicker than some of his Simpsons colleagues to recognize the fact that he was doing something wrong and offensive by voicing Apu (as underlined in Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu). Azaria decided that he would stop voicing Apu long before it had publicly become official policy at Simpsons HQ, and he’s been open since then about the fact that he wants to be held accountable for the harm that he caused by playing the character.
Recently, during an appearance on Dax Shepard and Monica Padman’s Armchair Expert podcast (via The Hollywood Reporter) Azaria said that he continues to explore the negative impact that Apu had an the perception of Indian people in the United States, and that he’s met Indian-American kids who have never seen an episode of The Simpsons but still know about Apu. “It’s practically a slur at this point,” he says, adding that one 17-year-old kid in particular had tearfully asked him to remind writers that “what they do matters and has ramifications on people’s lives.”
Azaria seems to recognize the very central role that he played in spreading the racist stereotyping that Apu was a part of, and it sounds like going out of his way to at least apologize for it and listen to people’s concerns about it are active parts of his life now. “Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize,” he said on the podcast. “And sometimes I do.” Meanwhile, on The Simpsons, Apu has never been recast (unlike some of the Black characters who were once voiced by white men, like with Kevin Michael Richardson replacing Harry Shearer as Dr. Hibbert).