After “The Simpsons” was recently accused of cultural misappropriation with Apu, it seems the series will be dropping the Hank Azaria-voiced character.
Based on a report from IndieWire in which Indian-American producer Adi Shankar claims to have heard from “multiple sources” that the long-running animated comedy is planning to get rid of Kwik-E-Mar Mart proprietor Apu in the wake of controversy stemming from the documentary “The Problem with Apu”.
The doc from comedian/filmmaker Hari Kondabolu explores how the once-beloved character — voiced in an over-the-top Indian accent by Caucasian actor Hank Azaria — is perpetuating racist stereotypes. As Kondabolu explained via Twitter, “The Problem with Apu” is meant to be “an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important.”
While producers on “The Simpsons” have grappled with how to handle the controversy, one potential solution was offered by Indian-American producer Adi Shankar, who launched a crowdsourcing effort to source 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.”
Shankar told IndieWire he has now found “the perfect script,” which he had hoped Fox would produce as an episode of “The Simpsons”. However, he revealed that he has since learned that the show is planning on ditching Apu entirely.
“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, explaining he received the information from two people who work on the show, and from another who works directly with series creator Matt Groening.
“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,” Shankar explained.
Producer Al Jean was quick to respond to Shankar’s comments on Twitter, posting:
Shankar then replied:
Reached for comment by IndieWire about the whole thing, a Fox rep offered a somewhat a cryptic response: “Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode ‘My Way or the Highway to Heaven.’”
In the episode, Apu appears momentarily in a group shot in which numerous characters from the show are gathered around the Almighty.
If “The Simpsons” is indeed planning on sweeping Apu under the rug, Shankar feels that would be 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
“It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways,” he added. “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.”
Earlier this year, “The Simpsons” made an attempt to address the issue in an episode that featured Lisa remarking, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
Appearing onscreen is a framed photo of Apu, with an autograph reading, “Don’t have a cow, man.”
Marge added: “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” while Lisa responded, “If at all.”
Many fans of the show felt that was an inadequate way to address the controversy, and, once again, Al Jean responded to critics via Twitter, promising he and the show’s writers will “continue to try and find and answer that is popular and more important[ly] right.”