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Explainer: Why is The Simpsons being criticised for its response to the Apu racism row?

The weekend’s episode addressed criticisms of the Indian character Apu.

Image: AP/PA Images

THE INTERNET has been flooded with talk of The Simpsons in the last 24 hours, with anger directed at its writers and creators for their response to controversy over its depiction of its Indian character Apu.

Over the past few years, criticism has been directed at the show for how the Kwik-E-Mart proprietor is portrayed – from his thick accent to his stereotypical job as a convenience store owner.

A new documentary, The Problem With Apu, put a spotlight on the issue when it aired last November, as it focused on the feelings of South Asian Americans towards the character and the show.

The Simpsons finally addressed to this criticism in last weekend’s episode. And people aren’t happy.

How did The Simpsons respond?

In one of the episode’s scenes, Marge sits with her daughter, Lisa, reading a book called The Princess in the Garden and trying to make it inoffensive for modern readers. Lisa turns directly to the audience, and says “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

The shot then moves to a framed picture of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, where the line “Don’t have a cow!” is inscribed.

“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge responds.

“If at all,” Lisa adds.

The episode, titled No Good Read Goes Unpunished, features Matt Groening, the show’s creator, as one of the writers.

Why has this response made people angry?

The Simpson’s response has been widely criticised for being tone deaf, or missing the point of the documentary.

Comedian Hari Kondabolu, the creator of The Problem With Apu, tweeted yesterday that painting the issue as a conversation over what is “politically correct” is ignoring the wider discussion that he wanted to create.

Fans of the show also don’t understand why Lisa, who often serves as the moral centre on the show, would be the one to put forward this opinion.

Al Jean, The Simpsons current showrunner, appeared to anticipate controversy before the episode aired, tweeting on Sunday:

New Simpsons episode in five minutes. Twitter explosion in act three.

Why is Apu’s character considered racist?

The documentary, The Problem With Apu, outlines many of the issues that surround Apu’s character. At one point, the documentary focuses on how the character was first created – originally intended to be a nameless clerk, the heavy Indian accent that was trialed made the writers laugh, and the character was changed.

In the documentary, Dana Gould, a writer for The Simpsons, said:

“There are accents, that by their nature, to white Americans, sound funny. Period.”

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“Everything with Apu is like this running joke,” Kondabolu, who is himself of South Asian descent, told the New York Times.

“And the running joke is that he’s Indian.”

The Simpsons, one of the America’s biggest and most influential TV shows, earned a global reputation for its politically astute comedy in its early years.

Thus, many people question why the show would rely on stereotyping. Apu was, for years, one of a handful of characters of South Asian descent depicted on US TV – and critics of the show wanted him to be more than a broad stereotype.

Kondabolu has previously said that he was happy when he first saw the character, as previously there has been no representation on television at all. But he soon realised that Apu was a “ridiculous, over-the-top caricature”.

Source: The Simpsons/YouTube

Indian people and those of Indian descent are under-represented in American film and television, and Kondabolu created the documentary after Mindy Kaling became the first Indian-American to star in her own series, “The Mindy Project”.

Hank Azaria, who voices the character, has won three Emmy awards for the role.

CA: FYC Event For IFC's Brockmire And Documentary Now! - Arrivals Hank Azaria has won multiple Emmys for the role. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

In 2007, Azaria said that the accent the producers wanted him to do for the role was stereotypical: “It’s not tremendously accurate. It’s a little stereotype.”

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