April 9th, 2018 – The Simpsons, a satirical look at a suburban family in a nebulous part of Middle America has generated billions in merchandising and legions of rabid fans thanks to a stable of iconic comic characters. A fan-favorite, convenience store owner, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, while a popular fixture in the fictional town of Springfield, has been met with a growing chorus of criticism from inside the entertainment industry.
Successful stand-up comedian, actor and filmmaker, Hari Kondabolu, himself the son of Indian immigrants has been the most vocal critic of the character’s heavy accent and problematic depiction. The outspoken comic wrote a documentary aptly titled “The Problem with Apu,” wherein Kondabolu talks about stereotypes and representation with performers and thinkers of South Asian descent.
Hank Azaria, a Caucasian actor who has voiced the character for the entire duration of the series, had this to say in response to the expanding controversy:
“I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot of things to think about, and we really are thinking about it.”
The debate ratcheted up when the show made a more than passing reference to the uproar over Apu in a scene during the most recent episode saying, in effect, about the matter:
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
The response from Twitter ranged from “NBD” to “WTF” as many users felt the show’s take on the issue was petty and flawed. Al Jean, the long-time showrunner and head writer, waded into the muddy waters by retweeting a few commenters who felt the anger was much Apu about nothing.
.@TheSimpsons New Simpsons in five minutes. Twitter explosion in act three.
Kondabolu himself expressed his disappointment for what’s been described as the tone-deafness of the scripted response, tweeting to his followers:
“In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
I think the fact that they put this “argument” in the mouth of Lisa’s character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response.
They should and could have done an entire episode with Apu responding to @harikondabolu‘s movie. They wouldn’t have to agree with him but they missed a huge opportunity to add in more layers and be topical. Instead, they went the lazy route and did this. https://t.co/ciUq39A4t6