Producer Adi Shankar has launched an ‘Apu Screenwriting Contest’ that invites writers to reimagine Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from the show The Simpsons. The creators of the longrunning animated show have been accused of supporting negative stereotypes about South Asians through the character.
“The Simpsons is sick and this contest is crowdsourcing the cure,” Shankar’s website for the screenwriting contest reads. The contests expect writers to create a spec script that “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”.
The Simpsons, currently in its 29th season, satirises middle-class American life. The Indian-American character Apu, who runs a grocery store, is depicted as a simpleton with a thick accent, also known as the “Apu accent”. Hank Azaria, who voices several characters in The Simpsons, also voices Apu.
In 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu explored the manner in which the Apu character contributed to the caricaturing of South Asians in America. In response, The Simpsons writers mildly touched upon the issue in the episode, No Good Read Goes Unpunished, in which Marge and Lisa Simpson say, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
“Apu is not even a stereotype, that’s what everyone is missing out on,” Shankar told Indiewire. “The stereotype of Indians is we’re doctors, we’re smart people, leaders in tech, the CEO of Microsoft, CEO of Google. We’re high achievers and we are that because to immigrate here from India there were so many restrictions literally only the best of the best and the brightest of the brightest were allowed to come over to this land of opportunity. [Apu] is an inaccurate, fabricated archetype that was created by The Simpsons and carved into the American conscientiousness through blunt force over 30 years.”
Shankar plans to pitch the winning script to The Simpsons writers and Fox broadcast network and urge them to turn it into an episode with the help of the winning writer. In case his appeal is rejected, Shankar has promised that he will produce the winning script and make it a part of his famous bootleg universe.
The India-born Shankar, besides producing big-budget films such as The Grey (2011) and Killing Them Softly (2012), has made fan films that re-imagine existing franchises and characters such as The Punisher, James Bond, Judge Dredd and The Power Rangers. These films have been released on Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe YouTube channel.
It was The Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s comments to USA Today (“I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended”) about the Apu controversy that pushed Shanker to set up the contest.
“I was angry, very angry, I’m now approaching this from a place of love,” Shankar said. “We just need to stop debating how severe the problem is and just address the problem. Set a good example for future creators and then move on.”