The Simpsons has been on air for around 30 years now, and is known for its somewhat controversial and brutally real humour.
However, there’s been one thing that the loyal watching audience have consistently had a problem with – Apu.
Comedian Hari Kondabolu has spoken out on multiple occasions about how the character presents every Indian stereotype there is, and his documentary The Problem With Apu on TruTV explains why the character presents such a problem to the Indian-American community.
Here are only 10 of the reasons why Apu is such a problematic character:
1. His character hasn’t evolved
If we had a penny for the amount of times we’ve heard him say “Thank you, come again”, we’d be rich.
If Ned Flanders and Smithers can evolve their character over the 30 years, why can’t Apu? Lots of people feel like the character is stuck in the past.
2. His accent can’t change
It’s clear that the accent voice actor Azaria puts on for Apu is nowhere near authentic and is straight-up offensive, but it’s not as though the show can suddenly give Apu a completely different voice all of a sudden – and so do they have to simply write him off?
3. The voice actor is white
Hank Azaria voices several other characters on the show, but his impression of an Indian man for Apu has come under flame, especially by Kondabolu as sounding like a “white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”
Azaria has spoken out about the controversy, saying: “I’ve never really talked about it. I know it’s a touchy subject,”
“I really do love the character and do try to do right by him accent-wise and character-wise, and that goes for all the characters I do. But I do understand why people could have been offended or upset, and I’m sorry for that.”
4. He wouldn’t have been in the show if it was written today
Kondabolu pointed out that today, as a society, we are a lot more sensitive compared to back in 1989 – he says that “He’s an example of a character who would never have been written if the show started today.”
5. The same jokes get old
“Everything is through the lens of a white person’s perception of an Indian immigrant. It’s the same jokes: India has over a billion people, something about curry, gods with many arms and elephants’ heads, arranged marriage,”
6. His name has become a racial slur
Actor Utkarsh Ambudkar spoke about when he was growing up he was bullied at school, with the other kids calling him “slushie boy”. and one of his friends had to explain it to him. “He was like, ‘Dude, there’s this guy on this show. He runs a Kwik-E-Mart. Thank you, come again.'”
“It totally f*cked with my childhood,” adds Ambudkar. “You’re not going to catch me selling hot dogs or working at a 7-Eleven.”
7. Again, the accent is offensive
Azaria says he got inspiration for the accent from Peter Seller’s character in The Party and the manager at his local 7-Eleven.
In a 2007 radio interview, he revealed what the writer wanted: “Right away they were like ‘Can you do an Indian accent and how offensive can you make it?’ basically. I was like, ‘It’s not tremendously accurate. It’s a little, uh, stereotype,’ and they were like, ‘Eh, that’s all right.’”
Kumali Nanjiani is a comedian who was born in Pakistan, and he reveals what happens in audition rooms because of Apu: “I already have a Pakistani accent, but they want me to do ‘the Apu accent.’ A lot of people think of that as being the go-to comedy Indian accent.”
8. His character is very surface-level
“These images have impact. And it’s part of a larger legacy,” Kondabolu explained. “This has been there since the beginning, the idea of wearing out people and describing people in these one-dimensional ways. It gives you a sense of power over them. You’re better than they are, you’re smarter than they are. You’re the one who fits and they don’t.”
9. Older Indian Immigrants are affected
Kondabolu claims that the character of Apu “was really going after people who are much more vulnerable, which are my parents, immigrants, and people who are able to control their image even less than we are.”
10. The stereotypes are dangerous
The character of Apu is essentially making an entire race of people into the punchline of a joke.
Do you think the character should continue to appear on the beloved show, or is it time for Apu to be kicked off?