Aspiring writers get a chance to fix The Simpsons' Apu problem thanks to a new contest launched by film producer and YouTube personality Adi Shankar. The venerable animated sitcom The Simpsons just made history by passing Gunsmoke to become the scripted series with the most-ever episodes. Lately however, the conversation around The Simpsons hasn't focused on its admirable longevity, but rather on the possibility that the long-lived show has finally grown out-of-touch with the culture at large.
Much of the conversation about The Simpsons' arguable lack of perspective has centered on the character of Apu, the Indian-American convenience store owner voiced by Hank Azaria. In his documentary The Problem With Apu, filmmaker Hari Kondabolu made a compelling argument that the character only perpetuates negative South Asian stereotypes and ultimately hurts people who are still struggling for acceptance. When The Simpsons finally addressed the Apu controversy in an episode, many were left disappointed with what they saw as a dismissive approach to something they regard as a genuine concern. For his part, Apu actor Hank Azaria responded by saying he has heard people's objections and would be willing to leave the character behind.
Now Shankar wants to fix The Simpsons' Apu problem for good, and he's asking aspiring writers to help him out. Shankar has now launched a contest via Coverfly asking writers to pen their own half-hour Simpsons episode in which they address the Apu character in a more constructive way than the actual show has. The contest description reads:
We are looking for a screenplay centering on the character “Apu” set in the world and cannon [sic] of The Simpsons that takes the character of Apu and in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, intelligently writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a mean spirited mockery and transforms him into a kernel of truth wrapped in funny insight aka actual satire.This contest is open to people of all ethnicities and cultures, however, if you don't have any experience with Indian culture in America then you may not have the perspective and experience to write well on this topic.
Shankar says he will take the winning entry to the Simpsons writers' room and pitch it as an episode. If The Simpsons should reject the story (a strong likelihood), Shankar says he will produce it himself as a fan film as part of his ongoing Bootleg Universe series of YouTube videos. It bears mentioning that Shankar is not a writer on The Simpsons and has no pull whatsoever with Fox, Matt Groening or anyone involved with the show.
The key sentence in Shankar's description: "If you don't have any experience with Indian culture in America then you may not have the perspective and experience to write well on this topic." That line right there sounds like a direct shot at the writers on The Simpsons, who have taken a hard pounding in recent weeks for lacking that very key quality of perspective. At the end of the day, perhaps the only real solution to the Apu problem is for The Simpsons to finally bow out. But as long as the show keeps making money for Fox, they will keep it on the air regardless of its arguable dip in quality and wokeness.