The Simpsons character Apu, an Indian immigrant, is voiced by white actor Hank Azaria. (Flickr: Doug Kline, Reuters: Lucy Nicholson)
For 30 years, The Simpsons has been fertile ground for pop culture criticism. From Hollywood to Washington, gun culture to tech culture, few topics have been ignored.
But the criticism doesn’t usually extend to the show itself.
On Monday, the show addressed an accusation of racial stereotyping that has been bubbling away for years and came to prominence in 2017 with the documentary The Problem With Apu.
Who is Apu Nahasapeemapetilon?
- From India, naturalised US citizen
- Wed to Manjula in arranged marriage
- Father of octuplets (8 children)
- Owner of convenience store Kwik-E-Mart
- PhD in computer science
Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s film explored how his love of the show – one of the longest-running and most successful in TV history – began to sour as he realised just how problematic the character Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon really was.
“Evreything with Apu is like this running joke,” Kondabolu said last year. “And the running joke is that he is Indian.”
He had tried, during the making of the film, to get an interview with Hank Azaria, the white actor who voices Apu, but the actor wouldn’t speak. Azaria did later acknowledge the controversy was “distressing”, but that was that from the Simpsons camp.
On No Good Read Goes Unpunished, a new episode that aired in the US this week, Marge tries to introduce some books from her youth to her daughter, Lisa, only to discover they now seem very politically incorrect.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect,” Lisa says. “What can you do?”
She glances at an image of Apu on a table nearby. The photo includes the phrase: “Don’t have a cow, man.”
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge says.
“If at all,” Lisa replies, as both characters turn toward the camera.
The comic seemed surprised by the response:
He said The Simpsons always “critiqued pop culture, mocked hypocrisy and went after broken institutions”.
“I learned from the best,” he said.