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Indian-American actress Mellini Kantayya accepts Hank Azaria's apology, but says The Simpsons' Apu has impacted her career

  • Kantayya, whose had roles on Nurse Jackie and One Life to Live, says she cried when she listened to the podcast where Azaria said he'd like to "personally apologize" to "every single Indian person in this country" over his portrayal of Apu. "As an Indian American actress, for me the shadow of Apu loomed larger in my life than I realized," says Kantayya. "The first Indian American person I ever saw on television without an accent in a role that had nothing to do with race was myself: in a walk-on part on As the World Turns in 2004. In the early 2000s and prior, Indian Americans were seldom seen on television or in films. The few representations, like Apu, were typically accented caricatures played by White actors. The Simpsons was (and is) a phenomenon because it satirized popular culture — but the show also informed it. At the time, Apu was the most well-known, if not the only, 'Indian' character in the American collective consciousness. It was supposedly 'progress' when the industry started to allow actual people of Indian heritage to play Indian roles, however one-dimensional and often offensive. If I created a character with an authentic accent (there is no single Indian accent, as more than 30 main languages are spoken in India), the casting director asked me to do it again 'but bigger.' If the role didn’t require an accent, casting directors asked me to redo a scene with one anyway because 'we don’t know which way they want to go.' Spoiler alert: They always went with the accent. Some incarnation of Apu is what they wanted. I realized that if I didn’t deliver, I wouldn’t work. So, I watched episode after episode of The Simpsons to imitate Apu’s accent." Kantayya added that "the weight of the responsibility for how I represented Indian Americans crushed me. So I decided to refuse to play accented, stereotypical characters. I turned down auditions. I lost agents. I definitely suffered for the decision. But I’m still a working actor, which is no small thing, and every day that remains true feels like a gift."

    TOPICS: The Problem With Apu, FOX, The Simpsons, Hank Azaria, Mellini Kantayya, Indian-Americans and TV