Kondabolu’s Documentary Makes ‘Interesting Points,’ Says The Simpsons Star Hank Azaria
Hari Kondabolu's documentary, titled The Problem with Apu, shows how racial stereotyping hurt a generation of South Asians growing up in the U.S.
American actor Hank Azaria who gives voice to the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons responded to the documentary The Problem With Apu, saying, “It’s really upsetting that it was upsetting or hurtful to anybody.”
Azaria was responding to a documentary by Hari Kondabolu that exposes the misrepresentation of Indians and South Asians in the show, which has been running for 28 years. “I think the documentary makes some really interesting points,” Azaria told TMZ. “It gave us a lot at The Simpsons to think about, and we really are thinking about. And definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by any character or vocal performance, it’s really upsetting that it was upsetting or hurtful to anybody. I think it’s an important conversation, and one definitely worth having. We’re just really still thinking about it. It’s a lot to digest.”
Kondabolu’s documentary criticizes the portrayal of Apu, who is shown as a Kwik-E-Mart owner in the series. He shows the racial stereotyping that South Asians have had to face as a result of character in The Simpsons. His arranged marriage, many children and the fact that he runs a convenience store promote the idea, Kondabolu says, that South Asians are seen only as shopkeepers and taxi drivers in the country.
“The Simpsons is an important work of art that has influenced so many, including myself,” Kondabolu had told BBC. “Apu was the only Indian we had on TV at all so I was happy for any representation as a kid. And of course he’s funny, but that doesn’t mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous.
“It gets to the insidiousness of racism… because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you. It becomes so normal that you don’t even think about it. It seeps into our language to the point we don’t even question it because it seems like it’s just been that way forever.”
Kondabolu had a very strong response to Azaria’s comment. He said, “Apu doesn’t ‘offend’ me, he ‘insults’ me…and my community. I’m an adult with bigger things to deal with. My film was meant to tell you to go f*** yourself & discuss why I want you to go f*** yourself & how we can prevent future incidents of people wishing others “self-f–kery.”
There’s nothing wrong with being an immigrant convenience store owner. What’s wrong is that person never being able to speak for themselves & share their own truth.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) December 5, 2017
The documentary includes comments by Indian American artistes such as Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Maulik Pancholy, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Samrat Chakrabarti, Sakina Jaffrey, Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Minhaj. Some of them narrate how as children they were called “Apu” or were asked to deliver lines “like Apu from ‘The Simpsons’ ” during auditions. Azaria had declined to be featured in the documentary.
Kondabolu had suggested a few ways that the animated series could proceed with the character. The “lazy thing” they could do would be to kill the character, he said. They could also let the children of the character have a voice. “Have them represent us. Have writers who can write to that voice,” he added. Another suggestion he gave was that a person of South Asian descent could oppose the evil billionaire character, Mr. Burns.