After years of work to bring the issue to light, comedian and documentarian Hari Kondabolu might finally get some justice regarding the "The Problem with Apu." Kondabolu took issue with The Simpsons character’s voicing and writing, calling Apu so stereotypical that, in invading pop culture with the rest of the show, he worked to keep racist viewpoints and assumptions about Indian immigrants and Indian-Americans alive.
Apu’s voice actor, Hank Azaria (who is not of Indian descent), went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday to address the controversy after The Simpsons addressed the issue in a recent episode (the ill-received “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”). After a thinly veiled metaphor, Lisa Simpson looks at the camera and says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The episode drew the ire of many, who criticized the show for reducing the issue to glib, dismissive zingers.
Azaria, in his discussion with Colbert, took a different approach.
He said that “I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers' room... including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced.” In order to make good on this commitment, the longtime voice actor said he is “perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
Admitting that this wasn’t always his stance, Azaria said the controversy about the character has “come to my attention more and more over the past couple years,” and has been something to which he has given a lot of thought. “As I say my eyes have been opened.”
This sat well with Kondabolu, who took to Twitter with this response:
One of Kondabolu's key concerns has been how the character’s depiction may have led to harder lives for those he represents, regardless of whether that depiction is satirical, joking, or simply ignorant. It was a concern echoed by Azaria during his Colbert interview.
“The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad,” Azaria said. “It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.”
This prompted lots of reactions on Twitter from other fans of the show and supporters of Kondabolu (including our own Preeti Chhibber):