Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian immigrant character from The Simpsons, is under scrutiny, with voice actor Hank Azaria announcing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that he’d be “perfectly willing and happy to step aside or turn [the character] into something new.” Some would like to see changes to Apu’s character to make him less stereotypical and offensive, whereas others argue that his character is three-dimensional and meant to be satirical.
It all started with the release of a documentary called The Problem with Apu, which aired on truTV. It criticized Apu’s character as an offensive caricature of Indian people. It reminded people of the ongoing controversy over the character, and the show responded by Lisa stating, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” After which, Lisa looked at a photo of Apu, which had the words “Don’t have a cow”. According to CNN, this response only aggravated viewers.
Now, with Apu’s voice actor Hank Azaria stepping into the spotlight to announce that he would be fine with stepping down from the role, the show is forced to respond in a more direct way. Azaria suggests some changes to the character in order to combat racist stereotypes and marginalization of Indians.
“I really want to see Indian, South Asian writer, writers in the room, not in a token way but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced.”
Azaria is concerned that there are people “young or old, past or present” that could be bullied based on Apu’s character. He also added that “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened.”
One critic of the controversy is Rajiv Satyal, an Indian comedian who believes that Apu is a three-dimensional character, much more than just a stereotype. He also said that using the Indian accent for humor is accepted among Indian comedians, and he doesn’t find it offensive, according to an opinion piece on CBC. He also argued that Apu’s character is not merely built on stereotypes. He has a Ph.D. in computer science and only started working at Kwik-E-Mart to pay off student loans.
The National Review also criticized the controversy saying Apu is not the only character to portray a certain ethnicity. Groundskeeper Willie is a stereotypical Scot and is not played by a Scottish man. There’s also the Mexican comic Bumblebee Man and chef Luigi Risotto. In fact, they pointed out that almost all the characters are satirical and stereotypical, whether they’re based on ethnicity or not, including the star of the show, Homer Simpson.
The Simpons has not released an official statement about this controversy.