For fans of “The Simpsons”, the controversy over Apu continues to provoke debate over whether it’s appropriate for a Caucasian actor to voice an animated Indian character by using a broad caricature of an Indian accent, despite the fact that said actor — Hank Azaria — has been voicing the character for well over two decades.
“Simpsons” creator Matt Groening shared his thoughts on the controversy earlier this year and addresses the topic again in a new interview with the New York Times.
As the debate continues over what should be done with the character — sparked by Hari Kondabolu’s scathing documentary “The Problem With Apu” — Groening tells the Times, “I love Apu. I love the character, and it makes me feel bad that it makes other people feel bad. But on the other hand, it’s tainted now — the conversation, there’s no nuance to the conversation now. It seems very, very clunky. I love the character. I love the show.”
In the interview, Groening also clarifies an earlier comment he made to USA Today, when he stated that this is “a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.”
“That wasn’t specifically about Apu,” says Groening. “That was about our culture in general. And that’s something I’ve noticed for the last 25 years. There is the outrage of the week and it comes and goes. For a while, it was, believe it or not, kids were stealing quarters out of their mothers’ purses in order to go to the video arcade, and that was going to bring down civilization. No one even remembers that because that lasted a week. I think particularly right now, people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they’re picking the wrong battles.”
While he believes that criticism of Apu from Kondabolu and others comes from a sincere place, Groening also insists there’s no malice in the way Apu is depicted in the show.
“My guess is I agree politically with 99 per cent of the things that Hari Kondabolu believes. We just disagree on Apu,” states Groening.
“I love the character and I would hate for him to go away. I am sorry that ‘The Simpsons’ would be criticized for having an Indian character that because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it. I go, ‘Maybe he’s a problem,’ but who’s better? Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years? I’ve been to India twice and talked about “The Simpsons” in front of audiences. That’s why this took me by surprise. I know Indians are not the same as Indian-Americans.”
In fact, Groening insists that “The Simpsons” has been subverting racial stereotypes since the beginning, explained by the family’s yellow hue.
“But there is a thoughtfulness at the core of the show,” Groening says, “The fact that the Simpsons are yellow and not the colour that passes for Caucasian in cartoons — that Mickey Mouse pink — that’s intentional. It’s taking that pink away, and making it yellow. And then taking yellow away from whatever racist connotation that that has had. And that was intentional. As many people have pointed out, it’s all stereotypes on our show. That’s the nature of cartooning. And you try not to do reprehensible stereotypes. Anyway. I probably said too much.”