Tuesday 16 July 2019

'People love to pretend they're offended' - Simpsons creator Matt Groening on Apu controversy

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

Aoife Kelly

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has finally responded to the controversy surrounding the animation's character Apu.

He suggested that people are pretending to be offended.

Recently 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.

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.

Asked by USA Today if he had anything to say about the controversy, Groening said, “Not really. I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.”

The show's writers addressed the issue in a recent episode of the show, but their response was widely criticised as being dismissive.

In the episode 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".

Last week, Hank Azaria, who has voiced the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon since the show's first season in 1990, said he would consider stepping down following the controversy.

Speaking on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Azaria said his eyes had been opened and that he wanted to see more diversity in The Simpsons' writers' room.

"I've given this a lot of thought - really a lot of thought - and, as I say, my eyes have been opened," he said.

"I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been.

"As you know in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers' room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers' room - not in a token way - but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced.

"I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that's what The Simpsons does. It just not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do, to me."

Read more: 'My eyes have been opened' - Hank Azaria willing to step aside from Apu over The Simpsons controversy

Here's how The Simpsons responded to the Apu controversy 

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