Following the publicity around comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, The Problem With Apu, The Simpsons has responded directly in the place where it so often has over the years—within the show itself. Dogged by criticism that the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon represented negative South Asian stereotypes, The Simpsonslaid out a simple acknowledgement and defense during Sunday’s new episode, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished.”
In the episode, Marge takes it upon herself to prune the book The Princess in the Garden for Lisa, updating its cultural sensibilities to be politically correct in 2018. Lisa counters that this neuters the story and emotional growth of the character, before seguing into the Apu question by literally glancing over at a framed photo of Apu’s face.
“What am I supposed to do?” asks Marge.
“It’s hard to say,” replies Lisa. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge offers cryptically.
“If at all,” finishes Lisa, affirming that The Simpsons isn’t actually planning on making any changes.
Call us crazy, but it’s a little bit disingenuous to say “what can you do?” when no longer using the character is a perfectly viable option. We’re not specifically advocating for the disappearance of Apu, but to act as if there aren’t any options is patently false.
The Problem With Apu accused the show of insensitivity toward Apu as a representation of a billion or more human beings worldwide, and pointed to the way that non-South Asian people would often use the character’s catchphrases and mannerisms as a means of “casual racism.” Many performers of South Asian descent lent their voices to the project directed by Michael Melamedoff, including Kal Penn, Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari and Aasif Mandvi.
One person who certainly wasn’t pleased with the show’s response was Kondabolu, who immediately struck back via Twitter. “Wow,” he wrote. “Politically incorrect? That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”