The world of entertainment has seen many controversies in the past year. Whether it be the rejection of cultural appropriation or the rise of the #metoo movement, the media industry is slowly heading towards a fairer and more inclusive future.
One cannot be blind to the prevalence of racism even today. While it may not take the form of ruthless slavery, it exists in the smallest of negative gestures and comments that one makes towards other communities.
While we love to embrace the characters who we see on the screen, sometimes we have to be open to the idea that their depiction might be inherently flawed. It is challenging to do so, but that is the only way we can usher in change. Recently, a US comedian, Hari Kondabolu, decided to do just that by calling out the classic TV show, ‘The Simpsons’ on its contribution to racism in the industry.
Through a TV documentary titled, The Problem with Apu, Kondabolu conveyed to the audience that the character of Apu in the show is a racist caricature of how Indians are perceived to be. Apu has been a part of the show since 1990, and this is the first time that such an accusation has come across the show’s way.
Some believe that this recent controversy might lead to Apu being dropped from the series altogether. The Indian shopkeeper has been labouring behind the counter of Kwik-E-Mart in Springfield for 28 years now, and it will be a massive disappointment to fans if they wouldn’t be able to see him in the show anymore.
Although Apu is an Indian character, he is voiced in the show by Hank Azaria, who is white. The documentary has sparked a debate and led to the branding of Apu as a negative portrayal of Indians in general. In Kondabolu’s words, Apu has a ‘little bit of the poison of racism’ which makes him a poorly written character. It is almost like Apu was written to embody all the characteristics that Americans associate with India. He is painted to be servile, but rather devious. However, Kondabolu was clear that he did not want Apu to be killed off in the show. Instead, he urged the writers of the show to keep Apu on the show and add more dimension to his character so that he became more of a real person and less of a stereotype.
Will Apu be written off?
However, insiders close to the show, have said that it is most likely Apu will be eliminated from the show altogether after the row. According to Adi Shankar, a film producer, “multiple sources” have given their confirmation about the shopkeeper’s dismal fate. He told IndieWire that Apu would be dropped because the creators of the show do not want to make a big deal out of the issue. They want to avoid being caught up in the controversy now or ever. Gracie Films, the production company behind the show, has not released a statement yet.