Matt Groening - creator of The Simpsons - says that there are no plans for the character of Apu to be recast with an actor of Indian ancestry, or be retired from the series completely. This announcement comes despite wide-spread protest regarding Apu's character being based upon a racial stereotype, and the willingness of actor Hank Azaria (who voices Apu) to step aside so that another actor can play the part.
The controversy began following the release of The Problem With Apu - a documentary written and hosted by actor and comedian Hari Kondabolu. The film interviewed several prominent actors of Indian and South Asian ancestry, who had complaints of dealing with racism while growing up and while working in Hollywood due to the character of Apu. This ranged from verbal bullying, with the name "Apu" being used as a taunt, to casting agents and directors asking them to "talk more like Apu" even if they already had a natural Indian accent. This finally culminated in filmmaker Adi Shankar (most famous for his series Bootleg Universe) hosting a screenwriting contest for aspiring authors to solve "the problem with Apu" by writing an episode of The Simpsons that would put the issue to rest in a satisfactory manner.
The Wrap reports that Groening was quick to change the subject when asked about The Problem With Apu, during his press tour for his upcoming Netflix animated series Disenchantment. Groening said that he and the show's current producers "haven’t talked about it" and that he was "proud of everything we do on The Simpsons." Groening was similarly dismissive of the protestors in an earlier interview with USA Today, claiming "people love to pretend they’re offended."
Groening's comments seem at odds with earlier statements by The Simpsons producer Mike Reiss, who claimed in a recent interview on Morning Joe that the show's producers were aware of the problems Apu posed three years ago. To that end, Apu had already been largely retired from the show and made only non-speaking cameo appearances following the 2016 episode "Much Apu About Something." This episode aired nearly two years before The Problem With Apu was released, and before The Simpsons' disastrously tried to address the issue again in season 29's "No Good Read Goes Unpunished."
The issues around Apu's character are not easily addressed. It cannot be denied that the character started out as a stereotype of Indian immigrants to the United States, and that his name has been used as a racial slur by bigots. By the same token, Apu was one of the first supporting characters on The Simpsons that was developed into a well-rounded character, and went on to rebuke those same stereotypes. Apu's defenders have pointed out that his story is that of the classic American immigrant, who tries to give back to the country and community that has given him so much. They point to Apu as one of the few consistently moral and competent people on The Simpsons, being a successful businessman, a devoted husband and father, devoutly religious and a volunteer fireman.
Regardless of how one feels about Apu, Groening's comments seem likely to only pour gasoline on the fires of controversy. For Groening and the producers of The Simpsons, the issue is already settled. For Hari Kondabolu Adi Shankar, and others bothered by the character, it isn't. The only certainty in all of this is that "the problem with Apu" won't be solved to the mutual satisfaction of both sides anytime soon.
The Simpsons season 30 premieres September 30 on FOX.
Source: The Wrap