Producer Adi Shankar (Dredd, Lone Survivor), citing sources close to long-running Fox animated series The Simpsons, claims the series is quietly dropping Apu Nahasapeemapetilon following controversies that have emerged surrounding the character.
“I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now: They’re going to drop the Apu character altogether,” Shankar told IndieWire. “They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy.”
In May, the Indian-American producer launched a screenwriting contest, open to anyone, intended to “solve the problem” with Apu, who in recent years has been accused of being an inappropriate and insensitive racial caricature.
Shankar, who in the past has produced unauthorized “bootleg” projects inspired by Power Rangers and Marvel Comics characters like Venom and the Punisher, said he would present the winning script to Fox and see it produced by either The Simpsons filmmakers or as an unofficial fan-film financed by himself.
The goal, Shankar said, was to develop a script that “in a clever way subverts [Apu], 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.”
Despite having found the “perfect script,” Shankar was reportedly told the character will be quietly retired.
“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” Azaria, who has voiced the character since 1990, said on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show. “Listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, south Asian writers in the writers’ room, genuinely informing whichever direction this character takes.”
Azaria added he is “perfectly willing to step aside” and end his tenure as the convenience store owner. “It just feels like the right thing to do to me,” he said.
Viewers were unhappy with the way The Simpsons officially addressed the controversy in an April episode that saw Marge and Lisa discussing the “politically incorrect” nature of the character, who his creators have dubbed harmless.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” asked Lisa, before looking over to a framed photo of Apu on her bedside table.
Marge said the issue would be handled “at a later date,” before Lisa added, “if at all,” with both characters then looking directly into the camera.
“We have had the conversation with [executive producer] Jim Brooks and his team and we’ve basically left it up to them,” Fox CEO Dana Walden told press in August.
“They’ve treated the characters with so much respect. We trust them to handle it in a way that will be best for the show… ultimately we decided that would be their decision.”
Apu most recently made a silent cameo appearance in Oct. 14 episode “My Way or the Highway to Heaven,” which showed Apu as just one of dozens of characters stood near God.
Shankar argued quietly pushing Apu into the background to avoid the controversy without addressing it directly is a mistake.
“If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice,” he said.1comments
“It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways. After having read all these wonderful scripts, I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn’t solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.”
Shankar intends to produce the winning script through his Bootleg Universe YouTube page. The Simpsons airs Sundays on Fox.