The Problem with Apu – Opinion

The Problem with Apu airs November 19th, 10pm on truTV.

I’ve been bewildered that The Simpsons was able to get away with such a racist character in Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the local Indian convenience store owner, for years. In today’s day and age of so much political correctness (and human decency), it’s shocking that people turn a blind eye when it comes to the long-running animated comedy show. Of course, The Simpsons does make fun of pretty much every stereotype under the sun, but something Apu is worse. A large part is that the only joke is his exaggerated accent. Is it okay that the way someone talks is funny?

With the new comedic documentary The Problem with Apu, star Hari Kondabolu explains another major reason that Apu’s character isn’t acceptable; There was – and still is – close to no other Indian representation on TV. Growing up, Indian kids had nothing on their screens to contrast Apu to.

In this highly-personal, insightful and timely exploration of minority media representation, Kondabolu speaks with prominent South Asian actors about the damaging legacy of Apu – Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minjaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Aparna Nancherla, Russell Peters, Sakina Jaffrey and Maulik Pancholy all share poignant stories about their own experiences with Apu and the broader questions about the comedy and representation he evokes. Whoopi Goldberg, W. Kamau Bell, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also share their thoughts in humorous segments that never forget the serious issue being discussed.

The documentary explores how this controversial caricature was created, burrowed its way into the hearts and minds of Americans, and continues to exist – intact – nearly three decades later.

The most shocking thing I learned from The Problem with Apu was that the performance can even be considered brownface. Apu is voiced by Hank Azaria, a white actor. And as this hour long special shows, he has zero regret for continuing to voice the character. Seeing him nonchalantly brush off the criticism is frustrating. But The Simpsons is still great, right? I guess even beloved things can have a blindspot.