back to top

People Are Unhappy At How "The Simpsons" Responded To The Apu Controversy

In the episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished", which aired last night, Lisa Simpson addressed the character of Apu: "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"

Posted on

The Simpsons has addressed the controversy surrounding the character Apu, following a documentary on the subject that aired last year – but the show's response has been criticised too.

In a truTV documentary The Problem With Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu argues that the portrayal of Apu, voiced by Hank Azaria (pictured), created stereotypes of South Asians that were then picked up and mocked by non-South Asians in wider society."I don't hate The Simpsons," Kondabolu explained in the documentary. "In fact, I have always loved The Simpsons. It's one of the main reasons that I knew you could be smart and funny and political at the same time... I know Apu is one of the smartest characters on The Simpsons, granted that the bar isn't set very high, but that's not why people liked him. They just liked his accent."I never heard anyone say they liked Apu because he exposed the idiocy and bigotry of Americans and the struggles of the average immigrant. No, it was just 'I love Apu. That voice is hilarious.'"The documentary produced fierce debate, with some wishing the documentary had gone further while others argued that everyone in The Simpsons is mocked and that people were taking it too seriously.
The Simpsons / Fox and Kevin Winter / Getty Images

In a truTV documentary The Problem With Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu argues that the portrayal of Apu, voiced by Hank Azaria (pictured), created stereotypes of South Asians that were then picked up and mocked by non-South Asians in wider society.

"I don't hate The Simpsons," Kondabolu explained in the documentary. "In fact, I have always loved The Simpsons. It's one of the main reasons that I knew you could be smart and funny and political at the same time... I know Apu is one of the smartest characters on The Simpsons, granted that the bar isn't set very high, but that's not why people liked him. They just liked his accent.

"I never heard anyone say they liked Apu because he exposed the idiocy and bigotry of Americans and the struggles of the average immigrant. No, it was just 'I love Apu. That voice is hilarious.'"

The documentary produced fierce debate, with some wishing the documentary had gone further while others argued that everyone in The Simpsons is mocked and that people were taking it too seriously.

The Simpsons acknowledged the issue in its latest episode. In "No Good Read Goes Unpunished", Marge is reading Lisa a children's book called The Princess in the Garden, which has been updated to remove stereotypical references. Lisa then berates Marge for the lack of character development.

#TheSimpsons completely toothless response to @harikondabolu #TheProblemWithApu about the racist character Apu: "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect... What can you do?" https://t.co/Bj7qE2FXWN

Fox / 20th Century

Marge expresses that she feels helpless, and Lisa then breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience. We then see a framed photo of Apu on a nearby table.

The Simpsons / FOX

Clips of the segment then started to circulate on Twitter, with many people expressing disappointment at how the show had responded to the issue.

So disappointing. https://t.co/pWamT61BJh

Advertisement

Dammit, #TheSimpsons. People were offended back then, they just didn’t have a voice you cared to listen to. This answer of “meh” is not worthy of the intelligent, challenging writing that’s taken the show so far. #TheProblemWithApu https://t.co/3HykdeI8M0

I'm watching "The Simpsons" since 2003-04 In many episodes they praised Apu. In fact, Apu is one of the central characters of the show. They always treated him with respect (with little comments on his Indian behavior) But this time, they did wrong! The Simpsons was my fav show. https://t.co/TEsSpWyMXs

Kondabolu then explained that his documentary was more about the depiction of marginalised groups.

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.

Wow. “Politically Incorrect?” That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad. https://t.co/lYFH5LguEJ

Advertisement

Many people also felt that it was inappropriate to have Lisa be the one talking to the viewer.

@harikondabolu And to have Lisa deliver the line... they are so unwilling to be in the wrong that they used the character who is least likely to say something like that.

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.

@harikondabolu Beyond sad... they even threw this in for good measure

However, some viewers said that Lisa's response hit the right note or that the controversy was overblown in the first place.

Lisa looking at the camera to give a direct message to Politically Correct people as the camera pans out to Apu is one of the best moments of my year so far. #TheSimpsons

Advertisement

outrage over @TheSimpsons is crap. Apu is probably as old or older than most people bitching about the character. So we get rid of a staple character for what? I guess we should lose all the stereotypes- groundskeeper Willy, Luigi Risotto, and Cletus? Where’s the outrage for them

Simpsons showrunner Al Jean tweeted before the episode implying that it would spark a Twitter explosion. He then responded to concerns that people had expressed on his timeline.

When BuzzFeed News contacted the show for further comment, the makers of The Simpsons said: "the episode speaks for itself."

CORRECTION

The Problem With Apu aired on truTV. An earlier version of this article misidentified the channel.