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‘The Simpsons’ response to Apu criticism sparks backlash

For 29 years, the character of Apu on “The Simpsons” has been voiced by white actor Hank Azaria. Controversy over the portrayal of Apu has swirled around the series this year. (FOX / TNS)
For 29 years, the character of Apu on “The Simpsons” has been voiced by white actor Hank Azaria. Controversy over the portrayal of Apu has swirled around the series this year. (FOX / TNS)

It’s been five months since a documentary sparked a national conversation on the polarizing “Simpsons” character Apu, and the long-running Fox sitcom has finally addressed the controversy – though not all are impressed.

Comedian Hari Kondabolu premiered in November “The Problem with Apu,” a TruTV documentary that explored the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and its harmful reinforcements of South Asian stereotypes.

Stars like Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn and Hasan Minhaj all gave their two cents on Apu, who runs the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store and is voiced by white actor Hank Azaria.

On Sunday night’s episode of “The Simpsons,” Marge and Lisa finally acknowledged the criticism via a children’s book that’s been edited so as not to offend.

With the book’s plot cleaned up, Lisa no longer sees a point to the story, as the character has no emotional journey to complete.

“It’s hard to say (what to do about it),” she tells her mom as she glances at a framed photo of Apu that reads, “Don’t have a cow.” “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

Marge chimes in, telling her some things will be dealt with “at a later date” before both break the fourth wall and tell the camera, “If at all.”

Kondabolu was quick to react, and took to Twitter to explain why he believed “The Simpsons” missed the point of his documentary.

“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad,” he wrote. “In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

He later tweeted out a statement that included a sarcastic dig at the series, now in its 29th season: “Congratulations to the Simpsons for being talked about & being seen as relevant again.”

Kondabolu wasn’t alone in his disappointment with how the show handled the controversy; comedian W. Kamau Bell also tweeted his frustration, making special note of the fact that the writers chose to have Lisa be the character who tackles it.

“I think the fact that they put this ‘argument’ in the mouth of Lisa’s character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response,” he wrote.

Showrunner Al Jean appeared to anticipate some backlash, as he tweeted there’d be a “Twitter explosion” by the episode’s end.

He retweeted several defenses of the show, including one user who called Lisa breaking the fourth wall “one of the best moments of my year so far.”

He also retweeted a user who praised the way “The Simpsons” tackled what he called a “non-issue.”

“People just want to cry about everything nowadays because it makes them feel like they’re doing something. Don’t ever change! Oh and I’m Indian and according to Twitter my opinion matters more on this topic,” the user wrote.

Azaria, the voice of Apu, previously addressed the criticism in a 2015 interview, saying, as opposed to when the character first debuted, young Indian-American viewers now had lots of role models to choose from, and Apu “can just be the funny one.”

He declined to be interviewed for Kondabolu’s documentary, but told TMZ at the time of its release that he had seen it, and thought it provided “really interesting points” and would spark some thoughtful conversation.

“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,” he said.

 

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