In TruTV’s trailer for the upcoming The Problem With Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu begins a quest to understand his hated for Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian Simpsons character voiced by Hank Azaria.
In the documentary, Kondabolu talks with Aparna Nancherla, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Hasan Minhaj, Maulik Pancholy, and Whoopi Goldberg about Apu’s surprisingly powerful impression on American culture. He also managed to sit down with Simpsons writer Dana Gould, who attempts to explain it away.
Being a Latino who speaks without a “traditional” Latino or Hispanic accent, I find this sort of discourse interesting. Apu was the defacto representation of South Asian people for decades; defining for many what South Asians “should sound like.” But he was performed by a white man. Which is not to condemn Azaria for his work. He managed to take a one-note stereotype and layer it over the course of 20+ years. Instead, it’s important to question why Apu was TV’s best known Indian for so long.
Is Kondabolu right to question Apu’s status on television? Certainly. But it will be interesting to see what conclusions he comes to about the character.
The Problem with Apu will air on TruTV at some uncertain date.