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Hey wait…is Apu racist?

An upcoming documentary is causing quite a commotion for its take on The Simpsons‘ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu and director Michael Melamedoff have teamed up to create a documentary called The Problem with Apu, which will debut on November 19.

The trailer has hit the interwebs and has led to some pretty furious online debate.

In one corner you have the fans of the The Simpsons who see the show equally offensive to everyone (for example, Homer, the white suburban dad is a drunk idiot), and in the other you have those that see Apu has a harmful racist stereotype.

Kondabolu, who is a fan of The Simpsons, says that Apu has haunted him for most of his life.

“Everything with Apu is like this running joke,” he told The New York Times. “And the running joke is that he’s Indian.”

Kondabolu speaks with celebrities with Indian heritage such as Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock) and Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show).

He also takes to the streets to talk to regular folk, and enlists the help of some non-Indian celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg.

Judging by the trailer, many of his interviewees have been pretty damaged by Apu. Some describe being called “Apu” when they were younger and others discuss being forced to “do the accent”.

Apu’s voice is another bone of contention for Kondabolu, who notes that Apu is performed by the very white Hank Azaria. Kondabolu describes this as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”

In what constitutes a bit of a reach, Kondabolu calls Apu a “minstrel” due his “brown paint” (it’s a cartoon fella) and white guy’s voice. He also finds some choice sound bits which make Azaria come across as a bit of a racist. Context is everything, so we’ll have to see the full clip before passing judgement.

Needless to say, The Simpson’s fans have taken the news that one of their beloved characters is a racist stereotype very well.

Nah, actually they have taken to Twitter to rage. Grab some popcorn and buckle up:

Kondabolu does concede that Apu has some nice qualities. But for him, the bad far outweighs the good. There is also the problem of underrepresentation, as for a long time Apu was one of the only high-profile Indian characters on television.

If Apu is indeed racist, then we can expect a lot more docos. How about Fat Tony, Luigi Risotto, Cletus and Groundskeeper Willy?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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