+
upworthy
Identity

Hank Azaria shares how he flipped 180 degrees on his voicing of Apu on 'The Simpsons'

The actor went from defending his portrayal of the Indian shopkeeper to founding an anti-bias non-profit to share why it was wrong.

Hank Azaria on The Man Enough Podcast

Hank Azaria spoke with The Man Enough Podcast about his evolution with the character Apu.

Hank Azaria has starred in dozens of TV shows and movies, both as a full-bodied actor and as a voiceover artist. But the roles he's best known for are the multiple characters he has voiced on "The Simpsons."

One of those voices helped win Azaria multiple Emmy awards, but also landed him in hot water—his portrayal of Indian shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

A documentary by Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu, "The Problem with Apu," examined the issue of Apu being a racialized stereotype, no matter how beloved the character was. Kondabolu himself started of as a fan of the character. "Apu was the only Indian we had on TV at all so I was happy for any representation as a kid," he told the BBC. But that perspective changed as he got older. "He's funny, but that doesn't mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous," he said. "It gets to the insidiousness of racism, though, because you don't even notice it when it's right in front of you."

Azaria spoke to his own obliviousness and his years-long journey from defending his portrayal of Apu to co-founding an anti-bias non-profit aimed at educating people about why such portrayals are harmful on The Man Enough podcast.


"So what happened to me with Apu was that got pointed out to me," he told host Liz Plank and Jamey Heath. "It's like, your well-intentioned character that was very funny and made a lot of people laugh, and won you Emmys, and helped create an iconic, wonderful television show—and all those things are true about it—but it had some blind spots baked into it, in its groundwater that came through me and the writers and the creators, that had unintended negative consequences. And the fact that I was oblivious to it only underlined how much I needed to look at it."

That wasn't his first reaction, though. He said he got upset and "very defensive" at first, reacting in a way that many people find familiar.

"I was like, 'Well, where does this end?' And I hear now a lot of people say it today. They say it to me: 'Isn't this all silly? It's gone too far. Where does this end? Can you not do an Irish accent? Can you not do a Polish accent? You're not a policeman. How come you can play Police Chief Wiggum? I mean, where does this nonsense end?' kind of thing. And that was my first, second, and third reaction." He said to him, it was just another thing he was imitating as a voice actor. He didn't see the difference between imitating an Indian or a Black person versus a French or German person.

@wearemanenough

Taking accountability for the past 💛#growth #mindset

"Learning that difference became important to me," he said. That was the beginning of his gaining a deeper understanding of how his voicing of Apu could be problematic.

Interestingly, Azaria's experience with a 12-step recovery program helped him process the backlash he experienced in a healthy, accountable way. He pointed out that a part of recovery is denial, but once you get past that, you start owning your part in the issue.

"Even if, in the end, you decide, well, my part of this, I think, is only 10% of the whole thing, I think somebody else is maybe 90% of this…you can only really work on your end," he said.

"Step four is that inventory. What am I doing here? Who am I? Where was I at fault? Where am I to blame? What's my part? How am I accountable?" he went on. "And step nine is amends. Now how do I make this right? How do I make up for it? Sometimes that can be 20 minutes. Sometimes it can take you years to work through that."

Azaria also had a professional and personal choice to make. "Am I gonna keep doing this voice or not?" he asked. "It wasn't so apparent to me what to do, especially when I was so defensive at first, because on the one hand, I didn't want to just bow to what we called then 'PC pressure.' Now there are other words for it, right? I didn't want to 'fold to the woke mob' or 'give in to cancel culture,' whatever we wanna call it. But more to the point, I didn't want to just, for appearance's sake, fold, because I was afraid of criticism or looking like a bad guy. On the other hand, I certainly didn't want to continue to do harm and perpetuate a stereotype and hurt people and marginalize people I really didn't know."

Azaria shared that one reason he didn't participate in Kondabolu's documentary was that he was afraid he would misstep and say things that would hurt both himself and other people. He said he was still learning and knew he needed to keep his mouth shut and his ears open. He started reading and attending seminars and talking to people.

"And these are conversations I had never had before," he said. "I don't think I'd ever had a conversation about race with anybody before, except in college, in a class where I was mostly just taking it in as an intellectual exercise."

Through that learning, Azaria began to recognize what many would call "white privilege," but that Azaria refers to as "relative advantages."

"I realized one of the main relative advantages or privileges I enjoyed is never having to think about that stuff. Never ever once. Didn't impact me. It's why I didn't take a pause when I did the voice of Apu or others, because it didn't occur to me that there would be any kind of impact beyond either a laugh or not a laugh, a successful show or not a successful show."

The more he learned, the clearer the reality became for him and he was able to make the decision to stop voicing Apu in 2018. Since then, he has gone on to work closely with The Soul Focused Group, a Black-led organization that focuses on building connections and raising the consciousness of people to help bridge divides that keep us apart. He also partnered with the group to found The Human Solidarity Project to remove financial barriers to the services The Soul Focused Group offers.

Azaria's evolution is fascinating to hear about and a great example of how education, open-mindedness and open-heartedness can lead us to a deeper understanding of and connection to one another.

Watch the entire interview below.

,

Angelina Jordan blew everyone away with her version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody."


At Upworthy, we've shared a lot of memorable "America's Got Talent" auditions, from physics-defying dance performances to jaw-dropping magic acts to heart-wrenching singer-songwriter stories. Now we're adding Angelina Jordan's "AGT: The Champions" audition to the list because wow.

Jordan came to "AGT: The Champions" in 2020 as the winner of Norway's Got Talent, which she won in 2014 at the mere age of 7 with her impressive ability to seemingly channel Billie Holiday. For the 2020 audition, she sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," but a version that no one had ever heard before.

With just her Amy Winehouse-ish voice, a guitar and a piano, Jordan brought the fan-favorite Queen anthem down to a smooth, melancholy ballad that's simply riveting to listen to.

Keep ReadingShow less

Steve Burns at Galaxy Con in 2023

In the wake of the docuseries "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV," kids who grew up watching Nickelodeon are reeling a bit. The documentary unveiled a toxic culture of abuse and exploitation at the network, tainting 90s kids' childhood memories with disturbing behind-the-scenes details of their favorite shows.

But a beacon of light from Nickelodeon still shines in Steve from "Blue's Clues." Steve Burns may have broken children's hearts when he left the show to go to college, but the beloved host has remained a wholesome icon for millennials and Gen Zers who watched him growing up.

In fact, Steve is still bringing comfort to millions, and his latest video on TikTok is a perfect example of how. In a one-minute TikTok, he says only a handful of words, but people are finding themselves tearing up if not outright bawling by the end of it.

Keep ReadingShow less

Millennials and Gen Z ditch top sheet to the dismay of Boomers


Once again the youngins are flabbergasting the older generations with their disregard of things they deem unnecessary. There's always something that gets dropped or altered generation to generation. We learn better ways or technology makes certain things obsolete. But it doesn't matter how far we've come, our beds still need sheets to cover the mattress.

The debate is on the use of top sheets, also known as flat sheets. They're the sheets that keep your body from touching the comforter, most Gen X and Boomers are firmly for the use of top sheets as a hygiene practice. The idea being that the top sheet keeps your dead skin cells and body oils from dirtying your comforter, causing you to have to wash it more often.

Apparently Millennials and Gen Zers are uninterested in using a top sheet while sleeping. In fact, they'd rather just get a duvet cover, though they may be cumbersome. A duvet cover can be washed fairly frequently, while some may opt for a cheeper comforter that they don't care is washed often because their distain for a top sheet is that strong.

Keep ReadingShow less
Courtesy of Kisha Rose Woodhouse

Man surprises partner by performing haka alone at her graduation

Graduations can be emotional no matter if it's preschool, high school or college. Something about watching a loved one close one chapter to open a new one just does something to you. But sometimes people have a few more challenges getting across the stage that make it feel even sweeter.

One new mom, Kisha Rose Woodhouse, who goes by @kiisha.rose on TikTok, became pregnant and gave birth while finishing up her college degree. Clearly, determined to finish, Woodhouse walked across the stage at graduation with her baby on her hip. But that wasn't what got people all choked up while seeing her video, it was Woodhouse's partner who stood alone in the auditorium.

The man was visibly filled with pride from Woodhouse's accomplishments when he began doing the Tautoko, also known as the haka. Immediately the auditorium fell silent as the man's words and sharp movements filled the air. Seeing him perform such an emotional dance alone to honor his partner is enough to get just about anyone's eyes to water.

Keep ReadingShow less

A man and woman looking over their bills. Representative image.

The United States is the second most expensive country in the world to give birth, after Japan. In Japan, it costs around $61,000 to have a vaginal delivery, although those costs can be offset by government health insurance.

In the U.S., it costs around $14,000 to have a child without insurance, although there are a lot of factors that affect the price, including where you give birth, the type of insurance you carry and if there are any complications.

While $14,000 is a lot of money for most people, Hanna Castle from the Columbus, Ohio, area received a $4 million hospital bill after having quadruplets and that didn’t even include the delivery. All 4 of the children needed to spend time in the NICU for lengths between 64 and 147 days.

Keep ReadingShow less



Pregnant.

There it was, clear as day, two blue lines staring back at me from the small pregnancy test I had just purchased.

I double-checked...

One line = not pregnant.

Two lines = pregnant.

Photo via iStock.


Keep ReadingShow less