The years-long Apu Simpsons controversy is getting even more heated.
You might recall comedian Hari Kondabolu's 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, which brilliantly explored the stereotypes and negative impact of The Simpsons character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The problematic Quik-E-Mart owner, who's voiced by white actor Hank Azaria, sparked so much backlash after the film's release that it gained the attention of the show's producers.
However, the way they chose to handle fans' concerns wound up doing way more harm than good.
The Simpsons Disappointing Response to The Problem With Apu
In response to the new criticism, the show aired an episode in 2018 called "No Good Read Goes Unpunished." There's a bedtime story scene where Marge reads The Princess in the Garden (a book that was deemed offensive but ultimately rewritten) to Lisa, but she’s not a big fan of the altered story.
A flustered Marge asks her, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” And in response, 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?” Lisa then takes a moment to look over at a photo of Apu, which, to add insult to injury, says "Don’t have a cow." Understandably, Kondabolu wasn't impressed with this.
Fans were also disappointed at the tone-deaf response, claiming that is was toothless and completely out of character for someone as progressive as Lisa. Many believed that the show's team would at least take responsibility for creating such an offensive character, considering how Kondabolu's documentary clearly highlighted the Apu's role in pushing harmful stereotypes that shaped people's perception of Indians.
But they didn't even go as far as acknowledging their mistake. It also didn't help that The Simpsons showrunner, Al Jean, stood by the show’s treatment of the subject by tweeting that Lisa’s statement was "factual."
As you can imagine, this did nothing to quiet the backlash of angry fans, so when rumors began to surface that the East Indian character would be written out of the show, it came as no surprise.
Will Apu really get written out of The Simpsons?
Producer Adi Shankar made a public statement confirming that the character would be dropped to avoid controversy. He said they were aiming to create a script that "subverts him, pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a creation that was the byproduct of a predominately Harvard-educated white male writers’ room and transforms it into a fresh, funny and realistic portrayal of Indians in America.”
Still, this only turned out to be another rumor because Jean stated that Shankar is not affiliated with The Simpsons, meaning he doesn't speak for the show. Fortunately for Andy and other fans, show creator Matt Groening confirmed that Apu definitely isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
In response to one fan who asked about whether the character has a future on the show, he said: "Yes. We love Apu. We're proud of Apu." So viewers can at least take comfort in the fact that he won't disappear.
Will fans see a different Apu?
Viewers have been voicing their concerns about the need for more South Asian representation, although there's still progress to be made when it comes to how these minority characters are portrayed. The same can definitely be said for Apu, who always came off as more of a caricature from day one.
But now that fans know for sure that he'll stick around, will they be seeing a more realistic portrayal of the popular Quik-E-Mart owner? Or will the writers will make him into a more complex and relatable character that doesn't perpetuate the most harmful stereotypes?
For now, it looks like the verdict is still out on that one.