Hari Kondabolu Shows What Happens When the Only South Asian Representation You Have Is The Simpsons’ Apu
Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem With Apu is a documentary that aims to explore the impact and origins of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the stereotypical Indian immigrant character voiced by Hank Azaria. In new clips from truTV, the comedian talks about the time he first spoke about Apu publicly in a segment on Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell and the fact that he actually loves the show.
“Look man, I don’t hate The Simpsons“, he explains, “In fact, I have always loved The Simpsons. It’s one of the main reasons I knew you could be smart and funny and political at the same time…it shaped me into the comedian I am today.” Kondabolu anticipates many of the arguments against his beef with Apu, from the “sensitive snowflake” accusation to the idea that Apu is actually a character that exposes American ignorance in a show that aims to stereotype everyone. However, the comedian notes that he “never heard anyone say they liked Apu because he exposed the idiocy and bigotry of Americans and the struggle of the average immigrant. No, it was always ‘I love Apu! That voice is hilarious!'”
And even if that’s the purpose, does the show succeed in that satire if it ends up hurting that demographic? What about the fact that he’s voiced by Azaria and resulted in other damaging trends of representation? In the documentary, Kondabolu talks to a number of other South Asians within the industry (and outside it) about their thoughts on Apu, representation, accents, and more. Kal Penn, for instance, feels less conflicted about the show and states that Apu made The Simpsons completely unwatchable for him. Most, if not all of his interviewees, recall being bullied with Apu name-calling and offensive accents, not to mention having that representation affect the kind of roles they could get.
Additionally, while it’s easier now to identify respected or prominent South Asian actors (thought it’s by no means perfect), The Simpsons introduced Apu when there was little else in the Hollywood ecosystem, as Utkarsh Ambudkar explains. “Apu reflected how America saw us”, says Kondabolu, “servile, devious, goofy.”
The Problem With Apu will have its world premiere at DOC NYC November 14th, and will air nationwide on truTV Sunday, November 19th at 10 ET/PT.
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