The longest scripted show on television, The Simpsons, got some backlash recently for their depiction of Indian Americans through the character Apu. The character who became the subject of Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, “The Problem With Apu,” shed some light on the effects the character had on Indian Americans as they grew up. Some of the people who were interviewed such as Kal Penn recalled how people made fun of him with the “Indian accent” as he grew up. The subjects in the documentary argued that Apu is the equivalent of blackface for Indian Americans. They thought that the character would have been okay if there were more Indian American representation in the media, but due to the scarcity of Indian Americans in the public light, it created a problem. A caricature was born and countless Indian kids were taunted.
As the documentary gained steam and more people expressed their outrage, The Simpson’s took a defiant stand against the documentary. In an episode of The Simpsons, which responded to the documentary, Lisa and Marge talked about a character who was inoffensive at one time but is now seen as offensive, referring to a character in a children’s book. They both shrugged it off as nothing with a picture of Apu next to Lisa’s bed.
"Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect… What can you do?" pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN
— soham (@sohamberlamps) April 9, 2018
But now Al Jean, the showrunner of The Simpsons, spoke with the Daily Beast at SXSW, where he issued an apology for the negative effects Apu had.
Writer Marlow Stern asked Jean, “As far as the Apu controversy goes, cultural revisionism is a very difficult question, and I’m wondering if you could shed some light on your decision-making as far as keeping Apu on the show.”
Jean replied that he was sorry for anyone getting bullied because of Apu. “I apologize for anyone who was bullied because of Apu. I hate bullies. I was bullied, and if you’re a bully I’ll kick your ass, so certainly that was wrong,” he said.
“But as a writer, I always wanted to make Apu an original character—more noble, more hardworking, and more intelligent than the average Simpsons character. When we were doing Episode 4, there was a big joke that Reverend Lovejoy didn’t even know what religion he was, and Apu was just being this wonderful volunteer fireman, and there was an article in the Guardian recently by a South Asian writer who said that moment made him feel really proud.
“So I think there are a lot of things about Apu that have made South Asians very proud, and it’s a very complicated issue. But no one should be bullied because of him, and I’m very sorry about that. “
Marlow followed her question up by asking if there would be a change to the character. To which Jean replied, “It’s a work in progress. That’s all I can say.”