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The Simpsons Tried to Address the Apu Controversy And, Uh, It Wasn’t Good

The Simpsons’ character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, voiced by Hank Azaria, has always been an uncomfortable and stereotypical character from his first introduction in 1990. The conversation around Apu, however, was recently reignited by comedian Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem With Apu which brought together several Indian and Indian-American actors to talk about the impact of Apu and the need for better representation in film and television.

A key part of Kondabolu’s short documentary was his desire to try and interview Azaria, with the ultimate hope that he’d stop doing the accent. However, we see Azaria continuously decline interviews and in a separate interview, writer/producer Dana Gould defends the character. As a result, the show didn’t come out looking particularly flattering in the show’s decision to stand by the offensive character. After the documentary came out, however, The Simpsons said that they would address the issue. I guess better 28 years late, than never?

The show briefly touched on the Apu problem in the episode titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”, which has Marge reading an “updated” and “politically correct” version of The Princess in the Garden. The event is seen as sucking all the soul out of a story, and ruining it. It went down like this:

“It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book,” says Marge, “but now it’s as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati.”

After a few lines of this new book, Lisa responds, “But since she’s already evolved, she doesn’t really have an emotional journey to complete”, and continues, “kinda means there’s no point to the book.”

“What am I supposed to do?” asks Marge.

“It’s hard to say,” replies Lisa, who turns to look at the viewer. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. [at this point, Lisa turns to a photo of Apu that says “Don’t have a cow.”] What can you do?”

“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” adds Marge.

“If at all,” replies Lisa. The two then look at the viewer.

Whether this means that the show will deal with Apu “at a later date”, the implications of this are crystal clear. The exchange suggests that Apu was only offensive recently (it was always offensive), political correctness ruins stories (no, stereotyping and further marginalizing already marginalized people ruins stories), and that the people angry are implying that all characters should be perfect (flawed and inherently offensive are very different characterizations).

Kondabolu responded to the episode on Twitter, writing:

Kamau Bell, who appear in The Problem With Apu also weighed in, here are some highlights from his thread (which you can click to read in full):

It’s disappointing that it seems like the writers missed the entire point of The Problem with Apu, which was a thoughtful film coming from a Simpsons fan. There was so much more to this discussion than simply “political correctness” and it’s frustrating that their late response to that project is to just sort of shrug.

The answer to “What can you do?”, in addition to “stop”, is probably, “Don’t make a dismissive and misunderstood response to people who care about the representation of marginalized groups.”

(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: screencap)

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