Wednesday 16 January 2019

Here's how The Simpsons responded to the Apu controversy

The character of Apu in The Simpsons
The character of Apu in The Simpsons
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The Simpsons finally addressed the Apu controversy in an episode on Sunday night.

The show has been accused of reinforcing stereotypes of south Asians with its portrayal of Indian shop owner character Apu, who speaks with a heavy accent, and rips off his customers.

Sunday's episode featured a segment in which Marge reads her favourite childhood book with her daughter Lisa.

Realising that the book is more racist than she remembers - it's full of stereotypes about Irish and Latin American people - she tries to censor it as she reads and makes the lead character a "cisgender girl named Clara", but Lisa objects because she feels the changes do a disservice to the character's journey.

"Well what am I supposed to do?" asks Marge?

Lisa says, "It's hard to say.  Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect.  What can you do?"

A photo of Apu sits by Lisa's bed (with Bart's catch phrase 'Don't have a cow' written on it) and Marge says, "Some things will be dealt with at a later date" and Lisa adds, "if at all".

The furore about Apu erupted following comedian Hari Kondabolu's documentary The Problem with Apu, which aimed to highlight how marginalised groups are portrayed in pop culture.

He previously said the character led a lot of children who were born and raised in the US to feel "non-American" and had resulted in bullying and racism.

The Indian-American comic responded to the episode and the show's response to the controversy on Twitter.

He wrote, “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”

He added, "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."

Many others echoed his sentiments on social media.  However, some fans came to the show's defence, pointing out that it is satirical and stereotypes people of all colours and walks of life.

New Yorker Hank Azaria has voiced the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon since the show's first season in 1990.

Speaking in January at the Television Critics Association press tour he said, ""The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on The Simpsons, the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing."

The show's producers have declined to comment on the issue and it is unclear whether the issue will be addressed on the show again or not.

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