Is Apu a Victim of Racial Stereotype in Simpsons?

In his documentary comedian Hari Kondabolu calls out how the character bolsters false narrative of Indians.


Unable to take it any longer, Indian American comic Hari Kondabolu has finally brought his strong feelings against The Simpsons character Apu on screen. Kondabolu’s documentary, titled The Problem With Apu, explores the caricaturish portrayal of the Indian convenience store-owner named Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the much-loved animated American sitcom. The trailer of The Problem With Apu was released recently while the TruTv documentary will be out this fall.

“Through this comedic cultural exposé, Kondabolu questions how this controversial caricature was created, burrowed its away into the hearts and minds of Americans and continues to exist,” mentions the trailer announcement.

Indian American comic Hari Kondabolu.

Fellow Artistes Speak Out

The film features Kondabolu’s interviews with several actors and comedians, including Hasan Minhaj (The Daily Show), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards) and Kal Penn, Simpsons writer Dana Gould and actress Whoopi Goldberg, who give their opinion about Apu, who has been existing as the most prominent Indian character in the series for 28 years.

Acclaimed actor and American civil servant Penn, known for his roles in movies such as A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and TV series such as How I Met Your Mother and Designated Survivor,  minced no words while condemning the character, which most Indians feel, has a fictitious exaggerated accent. “I hate Apu and because of that I dislike the Simpsons,” he said.

The trailer also features Utkarsh Ambudkaren of The Mindy Project as saying, “The Simpsons stereotypes all races. The problem is, we didn’t have any other representation.”

What People Behind the Character Say

Goldberg agrees that Apu’s portrayal qualifies it to be a kind of minstrel act, referring to the American form of racially charged entertainment that was developed in the early 19th century.

The trailer also shows a clip of Hank Azaria, who lent the voice for Apu, doing an act in front of a crowd and drawing enthusiastic response. Azaria is actually white, Kondabolu points out in the trailer, which also features a clip from an interview with him. “Right away they asked: ‘Can you do an Indian voice and how offensive can you make it?’,” Azaria says.

“There are accents that by their nature to white-Americans sound funny, period,” Gould says in a scene in the documentary. “It’s funny because it’s racist,” Kondabolu responds in the film.

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