'The Simpsons' Apu Response Was 'Petty and Sad,' Hari Kondabolu Says
"It was a punch to the gut."
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for truTV.
The Problem with Apu filmmaker Hari Kondabolu has been pretty active on Twitter following The Simpsons' recent weak-ass attempt to address the character's controversy. But on Tuesday, the comedian opened up to the Daily Beast about the show's treatment of the Kwik-E-Mart manager, saying the whole thing was "petty and sad," signaling "the downfall of a show I loved for so long."
"It was a punch to the gut," Kondabolu told the Daily Beast. "And the punch to the gut was not to the Indian American part of me, oddly enough, it was to the Simpsons fan part. You just sacrificed Lisa? Lisa's me, man."
He added, "The level of white fragility is kind of shocking. Like, really? Some kid makes a movie on a cable network and you’re the biggest comedy of all time, and you get criticized really for the first time ever and you can’t handle it? We get made fun of three decades and I get this film out and you’ve been king for three decades and one criticism and you fold."
Last month, The Simpsons finally acknowledged the long-standing criticism that Apu, the heavily accented South Asian character voiced by Hank Azaria—a white dude—was little more than a caricature playing on racist stereotypes. Unfortunately, that mediocre episode mostly just involved Lisa Simpson shrugging off the whole issue: "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect," Lisa says directly to the audience. "What can you do?"
After the episode aired, Simpsons creator Matt Groening echoed the show's sentiments, dismissing the controversy as people who "love to pretend they’re offended" and refusing to discuss the issue further. "We'll let the show speak for itself," he told USA Today.
"It was really confusing, because I had read all these great things about Matt Groening, that he would keep notes in the margins of scripts like, 'That’s mean-spirited, that’s not what the show is about, we’re not doing that. We’re not making fun of people that way,'" Kondabolu said. He added, "It’s a response that made me think he didn’t see the film. The Simpsons’ writers’ response is a response of people who didn’t see the film."
The only member of The Simpsons' cast and crew who seemed to actually sympathize with Kondabolu's documentary and actively engage with the criticism was Azaria himself, who recently offered to "step aside" and hand the role of Apu off to someone else, if necessary. And while Kondabolu has thanked Azaria for his comments, he said it's probably "too late" for that.
"I don’t think you do a different voice, what’s the point? The show is 29 years old. What good does that do? The thing that would benefit all parties would be for the show to be more creative," he told the Daily Beast.
For now, at least, it doesn't seem like anyone in The Simpsons' writers' room is particularly willing to find a more creative solution—but some outside of it, like producer Adi Shankar, are actively looking at ways to address the problem with Apu, once and for all.
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