Apu may be one of the most recognizable characters on The Simpsons, especially his "Thank you, come again!" catchphrase but the famous cartoon character isn't funny to everyone. For one filmmaker, Apu is a troubling stereotype.
In a new documentary for truTV, The Problem With Apu, comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu explores the origins of The Simpsons' Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the stereotypical Indian immigrant character voiced by Hank Azaria. And, while the fact that all of the stereotypes on The Simpsons are offensive is mentioned, Kondabolu's primary concern is with Apu because, as mentioned in the trailer, there are so few South Asian representations in entertainment. You can check out the video below.
As can be seen in the trailer, one of the topics that Kondabolu digs into is the origins of the character, even interviewing Dana Gould, writer and co-executive producer for The Simpsons, who says in the trailer that some accents just "sound funny" to white Americans. He also goes further, even posing the question of whether Apu is a minstrel, a brown character played up by white people for laughs – a point driven home by the clips of Azaria explaining just how the Apu voice came to be, with Azaria claiming he was asked to make Apu’s voice as offensive as possible.
While Apu didn't make his debut until a few episodes into the first season of The Simpsons in 1989, the show has been a cultural touchstone. The groundbreaking show, which kicked off its 29th season on October 1st, has combined child-friendly animation with biting social satire exposing various elements of American culture. However, with Apu, Kondabolu thinks that the show has a missed opportunity, one that told the Washington Post he hopes his documentary can help change.
"It's already been 30 years and the impact has already been made," Kondabolu said. "For me it's about getting more diverse roles. It's about writing rooms being more diverse, people actually sharing their own stories as opposed to other people sharing it for them first."
The Problem With Apu will air on truTV Sunday, November 19th at 10/9 Central.