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'The Simpsons' Recast Another Of Hank Azaria's Characters — Why Some People Aren't Happy About His Apology

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Hank Azaria and characters from The Simpsons

Producers of “The Simpsons” are continuing their efforts to put the promises they've made into action, further diversifying their cast of voice actors.

In June 2020, producers of the popular animated sitcom announced that they would no longer have white actors voice Black and other non-white characters.

Fox’s longest-running animated television series had faced criticism for years from people of color who felt misrepresented by characters on the show. And in the midst of last year’s racial reckoning, these cries became increasingly difficult for the team behind “The Simpsons” to ignore.

In September, Alex Désert replaced Hank Azaria as Homer's Black co-worker and childhood friend Carl Carlson. Then in February, Kevin Michael Richardson replaced Harry Shearer as the voice of Dr. Julius Hibbert.

The latest change to the cast will see Tony Rodriguez, an openly gay Cuban-American actor, taking on the role of Julio, one of the show’s most popular LGBTQ characters.

Julio was previously voiced by Azaria, who has played numerous Simpsons characters since the series first began — including Springfield's favorite bartender, Moe Szyslak, Police Chief Wiggum, Snake, Sea Captain, and Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu.

As one of the show’s favorite and most recognizable voice actors, Azaria has been making a conscious effort to step away from voicing characters of color and other minority groups he is not himself a member of.

Hank Azaria has publicly apologized for voicing characters of color on "The Simpsons."

Azaria came under fire in 2017 after a documentary titled “The Problem With Apu,” written by and starring comedian Hari Kondabolu, took aim at his voicing of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian immigrant and the owner of Springfield's Kwik-E-Mart convenience store.

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In 2020, Azaria revealed he would no longer play the beloved by some, hurtful for others role of Apu.

By the time he did, writer and director Jay Kogen explained the character had already been phased out years earlier.

The earlier this month, Azaria publicly apologized for having ever taken the role in the first place during a guest appearance on the Armchair Experts podcast.

Speaking with co-hosts Dax Sheppard and Monica Padman, who herself is Indian-American, Azaria shared how a conversation with an Indian-American boy at his son’s school changed his perspective.

The child had never seen an episode of “The Simpsons,” but was aware of the harmful stereotypes the character created for his community.

“It's practically a slur at this point," Azaria said. "All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country... Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize.”

He went on to urge casting agents and producers to make better choices now and in the future.

"If it's an Indian character or a Latinx character or a Black character, please let's have that person voice the character,” he said. "It's more authentic, they'll bring their experience of their culturalization to it, and let's not take jobs away from people who don't have enough."

The apology, though perhaps overdue, was broadly accepted by Indian-Americans.

And the latest decision to remove Azaria from the role of Julio has met with a similar reaction overall.

Rodriguez expressed admiration for his predecessor and the way he handled the role, which was one of few LGBTQ characters in mainstream television at the time of Julio’s debut.

"[Hank Azaria], frankly, is brilliant,” Rodriguez said while appearing on an episode of Gayest Episode Ever. “Take this conversation about representation aside, he's a fantastic performer, and I admire the hell out of him. But if these doors were creaking open with representation, I thought, 'There's no one else besides Hank Azaria that can play this role."

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But, of course, replacing the voice of of a gay character with the voice of a gay actor has been too revolutionary for some people.

Not everyone is happy about “The Simpsons” new wave of diversity, particularly John Cleese.

Reluctant to accept change, some fans of “The Simpsons” believe it is just too sad for them to see Azaria distance himself from these characters, even if it his doing so is an important step toward greater institutional inclusivity.

Actor John Cleese, for example, recently took aim at Azaria on social media by mocking his apology.

Cleese told Twitter, "Not wishing to be left behind by Hank Azaria, I would like to apologize on behalf [of] Monty Python for all the many sketches we did making fun of white English people," "We're sorry for any distress we may have caused."

Cleese is a regular critic of “cancel culture” and often pushes back against perceived “wokeism.”

Mike LaChance, a columnist for Legal Insurrection, joined in the lament, noting Apu was "a great character" who had been excited to become an American citizen.

In reply, a user going only by the name Don brought the conversation back to Apu's largely unspoken of disappearance from the show, pointedly remarking the character has been replaced with no one, "as if deletion were inclusion."

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.