Disregarding the feelings and sentiments of Indian Americans, “The Simpsons” has decided to retain Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a character deemed by many as a racist caricature of an Indian man, on the long-running animated show.
Season 31 of “The Simpsons” is set to return Sept. 29 on Fox TV.
In 2018, multiple outlets had reported that the character of Apu, which has had to grapple with the troubling stereotype of a convenience store clerk with an exaggerated, fake Indian accent since its inception, will be dropped out of the show. (Read earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2udWu8f).
But now Variety reports that creator Matt Groening reaffirmed the show’s commitment to the Kwik-E Mart clerk Aug. 24 during the D23 Expo convention.
When asked by a young fan whether Apu would remain on the show — following reports that the character had been written out of the show — Variety quoted Groening as saying, “Yes. We love Apu. We’re proud of Apu.”
Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu brought the issue to the forefront through his 2017 documentary, “The Problem with Apu.”
“It’s like a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father,” Kondabolu said. (Read earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2udWu8f.)
In May 2018, actor Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, addressed the controversy during his appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” He said he was willing to stop voicing the character.
“I say my eyes have been opened. And 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,” Azaria said.
Indian actress Priyanka Chopra was among the celebrities to talk about how the racist Indian stereotyping of Apu contributed to her discontent growing up.
“During her appearance on ‘The View’ in May 2018, Chopra spoke about the stir around the problematic portrayal of the ‘Indian American’ convenience store clerk. “He was the bane of my life growing up,” Chopra, who spent a few years in the U.S. as a teenager, told the hosts.
“A lot of people are talking about, ‘Oh, the show was so successful for 30 years, why are we suddenly waking up and being offended by a character that everyone loved?’” said the “Quantico” star. “What happened from that time to now, the population of Indian Americans has tripled. So the voice is louder. Representation and the demand for representation for people of color is louder. There’s the Internet and the media, where people can have a conversation.”
“And even if someone was offended at that time – which I was – I was always asked when I was in high school, like at 14, 15, why I didn’t speak like that. Or are my parents doctors (which they are)? Did I find gold in my rivers? Did we go to school on elephants? I always had questions like that,” she added.
Indian American filmmaker Adi Shankar had previously told IndieWire that removing the character would be a mistake.
“If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice,” Shankar was quoted as saying. “It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways…I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn’t solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.”
Here’s hoping that the fresh season will bring in fresher and broader perspective and work to erase the stereotypes, like Chopra said.
“Yes, it is a cartoon. Yes, it’s a pop culturally super successful show. But that gives it more responsibility. It’s out of date on so many levels,” she said.