The Simpsons may be quietly dropping Indian grocery store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from the long-running animated show in the wake of criticism that the character inaccurately and problematically depicts South Asians.
In an interview to IndieWire, Indian-American producer Adi Shankar said he learnt this from two people working on the show and one working with The Simpsons creator Matt Greoning. “I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now,” Shankar told the publication. “They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him [Apu] altogether just to avoid the controversy.”
Shankar, who is not associated with The Simpsons, had in April launched an Apu Screenwriting Contest inviting writers to reimagine the character in a clever or subversive way. He planned to pitch the script to Fox, the network that hosts the show.
The producer told IndieWire that he had picked a winner of the contest, Vishaal Buch, a doctor in Maryland, whose script turned Apu into a successful businessman and also weaved in other prominent Indian Americans. He criticised the show’s decision to drop the character instead of reimagining him. “If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice,” he said. “It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways.”
When reached for comment, a Fox representative gave a “cryptic response”, said IndieWire. “Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode ‘My Way or the Highway to Heaven’”, the publication quoted the representative as saying.
The Simpsons, which satirises middle-class America through the experiences of one family, is now in its 30th season. Apu was introduced on the show in 1990 and was the first South Asian character to appear regularly on mainstream American television. However, criticism over Apu’s portrayal grew after the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, in which comedian Hari Kondabolu and director Michael Melamedoff explored how the character’s exaggerated accent, speech and mannerisms impacted popular opinion of South Asians in America. In April, actor Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, admitted that rethinking the character seemed like the right thing to do and said he is willing to step aside, or help evolve the character.
On Twitter, Kondabalu and others expressed disappointment over the show’s decision to deal with the criticism by cutting Apu out. The comedian also faced attacks by fans who believed that his documentary was the reason that the character was cut.
Others contended that the Apu’s depiction was not problematic.
In April, The Simpsons had indirectly addressed the row over Apu in the episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect,” Lisa Simpson said in the episode.
She late said, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date...if at all.”
Meanwhile, IndieWire said Shankar is “working under the assumption” that Fox will not produce his winning script and so he plans to develop it and release it on his YouTube Channel Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe. Shankar, besides producing big-budget films (The Grey, Killing Them Softly), makes unauthorised fan-made films that reimagine popular franchises on his YouTube channel.