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Let ‘The Simpsons’ Producers Deal With It
In November of last year, comedian Hari Kondabolu started a long-overdue conversation about one of the most beloved, yet infamous, characters on The Simpsons. His documentary The Problem With Apu explored how the character—voiced by white actor Hank Azaria—has not only remained one of the few instances of south Asian immigrants in pop culture, but also has remained a stagnant, one-dimensional character throughout The Simpsons’ 29 seasons.
Since then, the show’s creatives have responded to the doc in a variety of ways. Hank Azaria offered an apologetic response, saying, “I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot to think about and we really are thinking about it… Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by it, or by any character or vocal performance, it’s really upsetting that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.”
Creator Matt Groening, on the other hand, was less diplomatic: “I’m proud of what we do on the show,” Groening said. “And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.”
Months after the series had a somewhat cringe-worthy scene that addressed the Apu controversy last season, its home network Fox has finally commented on the character via a statement from chairman and CEO, Dana Walden. Her stance, essentially: Let the show deal with it however they want.
“We have had the conversation with [executive producer] Jim Brooks and his team and we’ve basically left it up to them,” Walden said. “They’ve treated the characters with so much respect. We trust them to handle it in a way that will be best for the show… ultimately we decided that would be their decision.””In a day of social media where fans are able to have a public forum, I can’t say ultimately we were surprised,” she said. “I think it’s good information for the creators to receive … they focused on the reaction and I think that’s partially informing how they will move forward.”
It seems like a never-ending game of PC volleyball, with Fox and The Simpsons producers unable to come up with a definitive action to address the character.
One thing is for certain: Eventually, someone will have to make a decision to either kill the character entirely, or make some attempt to recognize the audience’s response to Apu not as “fake outrage” but as fair and sensible criticism. Fox’s Dana Walden does have a point in that social media has amplified the voices of those who were previously unheard. The Simpsons has the opportunity to evolve Apu for the better—its creative team just has to make the first move.