The Problem with Apu

The Problem with Apu is a 2017 documentary film written by and starring comedian Hari Kondabolu and produced and directed by Michael Melamedoff. The film focuses on the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian immigrant in the animated sitcom The Simpsons who, for a period, was the only figure of South Asian heritage to appear regularly on mainstream U.S. television. The film explores encounters with negative stereotypes, racial microaggressions and slurs against people of Indian and South Asian heritage disseminated through the character.

The Problem with Apu[1]
The Problem with Apu
Promotional poster
Written byHari Kondabolu
Directed byMichael Melamedoff
Starring
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Production
Producer(s)
  • Michael Melamedoff
  • Michael J. Cargill
Running time49 minutes
Release
Original networktruTV
Original release
  • November 19, 2017

Background

Hari Kondabolu
Documentary writer Hari Kondabolu

Kondabolu grew up watching The Simpsons and cites it as a major influence on his comedy and cultural savvy. Initially he liked the character Apu because the character was the only representation of his family's culture regularly aired on television in the United States. Kondabolu told the BBC, "Apu was the only Indian we had on TV at all so I was happy for any representation as a kid." As he grew older, Kondabolu became more critical of Apu, saying, "he's funny, but that doesn’t mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous. It gets to the insidiousness of racism, though, because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you."[2]

Hankazaria05
Hank Azaria, voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and several other characters on The Simpsons

According to Kondabolu, his mother taught him that "you can criticize something you love because you expect more from it."[3] His first public critique of The Simpsons character came at the insistence of W. Kamau Bell during the first season of his FX television show Totally Biased.[4] In 2012 Kondabolu worked as a writer on the show, and Bell heard him railing against Apu for fomenting racial stereotypes about Indians. Bell then told Kondabolu that if he did not write it into a stand up comedy routine and perform it on the show, Bell would fire him.[5] In his bit, Kondabolu criticizes voice actor Hank Azaria (who is of Sephardic Jewish descent), calling him "a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father." Kondabolu went on to cite other portrayals of South Asians in mainstream television and film—such as a man eating monkey brains in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and an actor petting a stuffed mongoose in a metroPCS commercial—as racist.[6] Kondabolu eventually decided to expand the one-minute segment about Apu into an hour-long documentary.[7]

Simpsons creator Matt Groening named Apu after the protagonist of Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray's acclaimed Apu Trilogy.[2] Hank Azaria based his voice characterization of Apu on a clerk who worked at a 7-Eleven near his home in Los Angeles as well as on Peter Sellers' character Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian actor, from the film The Party.[8] In a 2015 interview Azaria acknowledged the character's impact as fodder for widespread racially motivated bullying that targets children with South Asian heritage.[9] Kondabolu reached out to Azaria to be interviewed for the film, but Azaria declined for fear that his words would be manipulated by the film's editing process. He agreed to have a discussion facilitated either by Terry Gross on the public radio program Fresh Air or on Marc Maron's podcast WTF but according to Kondabolu, Azaria rescinded the offer once it was accepted.[10]

Themes

In the film Kondabolu speaks with other South Asian-American entertainers about the impact of Apu on their lives. Actors Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Maulik Pancholy, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Samrat Chakrabarti, Sakina Jaffrey, Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Minhaj[1][7][11] relate childhood anecdotes of being called "Apu" by other children or having the character's catchphrases from the show said to them by strangers because of their perceived heritage.[2] They also relate stories of becoming trained professional actors and being asked to deliver lines in the style of Apu.[7]

Kondabolu compares this instance of Azaria portraying a caricature of an Indian shopkeeper to blackface and interviews African-American actress Whoopi Goldberg who is a longtime collector of racist ephemera from the 20th and 21st centuries. Goldberg agrees with the interpretation of Apu as a form of brownface.[12] Kondabolu traces the origins of The Simpsons character to a legacy of brownface performance by actors such as Peter Sellers in The Party.

In parts of the documentary, Kondabolu expresses his appreciation for The Simpsons as a subversive and culturally astute institution on the landscape of mainstream North American media.[13] Additionally, he draws out a range of opinions from his peers; for instance, while Kondabolu said that despite Apu he still loved The Simpsons, Kal Penn said the character ruined the show for him.[7] Kondabolu said, "I made this film to not only talk about the origin of Apu and highlight the impact of such images in media, but also to celebrate the diversity and complexity of my community."[3]

Production and release

Filming for The Problem with Apu began in April 2016.[7] The film was given special screenings featuring live appearances and talkback with Hari Kondabolu in the fall of 2017, preceding its release on the truTV network on November 19.[11]

Kondabolu appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to promote the film. He argued that the Apu character had a serious and insidious effect, and that the use of humor in the portrayal is an artful way of making racism more appealing; this would hypothetically be relieved by the introduction of a range of brown characters.[14]

Reception

The documentary received mostly positive reviews from critics, with review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes ranking the film at 89% out of 17 reviews, with an average critical score of 8/10,[15] and Metacritic assigning a score of 77/100 based on four reviews.[16]

Daniel Fienberg, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, praised the documentary for providing "its thesis against the character's acceptability ... with such clarity, it's hard to imagine it generating an adversarial response more cogent than that hoary classic 'It's a joke, stop taking it so seriously,' which is no response at all.'' However, Fienberg criticized it as being "half a documentary", saying "it becomes disingenuous when Kondabolu declares, 'I realize some of you think I'm some annoying PC social-justice warrior' and then calculatedly skips those voices, and disappointing when Kondabolu and friends wonder what can be done about Apu now and there's nobody around to make it into a real conversation."[17]

Scott Pierce of The Salt Lake Tribune found the documentary "thought-provoking and entertaining", and concluded that "Kondabolu raises some troubling questions. I’ll never be able to watch The Simpsons without thinking about this again."[18] Meenasarani Linde Murugan, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, contrasted the documentary's progressive advocacy with the view of media diversity promulgated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: "In celebrating how far we have come, we should not only remember how brownface and brown voice persist on contemporary television, but also call out those public South Asian figures who would use this same history of ridicule to leverage a vision of the future wholly run by corporations that would further racial and economic inequity."[19]

Justin Charity, writing for The Ringer, agreed with the film's argument, but found the pursuit of Azaria to appear in the film "a prevailing distraction from more ambitious consideration of the ideal future of The Simpsons and the cultural shifts that have rendered Apu increasingly unpalatable." He also found the documentary lacked imagination in finding a solution to creating a more nuanced portrayal of Apu: "that lapse of Kondabolu’s imagination is the documentary’s real waste."[20] Neal Justin of Minneapolis Star Tribune noted "any criticism directed at the show’s portrayal of the convenience-store owner in his documentary...is drowned out by frustration that he can’t land an interview with the character's voice actor."[21]

In October 2018, in the South Park episode "The Problem with a Poo", Mr. Hankey is expelled and sent to a land where "people don't care about bigotry and hate" – Springfield – where he is welcomed by Apu. The episode ended with a title card, #cancelthesimpsons, similar to the promo for South Park which called for the cancellation of itself, which lead many to asume that the episode was South Park siding with the documentary.[22] However, on the DVD commentary, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone stated that the people on The Simpsons are their friends, and that the episode wasn't a jab at The Simpsons but at the documentary and the critique of Apu, and that they found it amusing how many misinterpreted the joke as an attack on The Simpsons.[23] In addition, writer for The Simpsons, Al Jean, tweeted about the episode: "It's actually in favor of us saying people are too critical."[24]

Simpsons response

The Simpsons episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished", first aired on April 8, 2018, was widely received as a response to Kondabolu's film.[25][26][27][28][29] In it, Marge finds that a book she loved as a child contains elements that would now be considered offensive, and edits the book herself to remove these elements. In doing this she finds the book loses its "emotional journey". She and Lisa then look to a picture of Apu, and Lisa comments that "something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" Kondabolu wrote on Twitter that he was disappointed that the message of his film had been reduced to the concept of "politically incorrect".[30] In an interview with USA Today, creator Matt Groening dismissed the criticism of the Apu character, saying "I think it's a time in our culture where people love to pretend they're offended".[31]

References

  1. ^ a b "The Problem with Apu - Credits - truTV.com". truTV. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Blauvelt, Christian (November 6, 2017). "The Simpsons' Apu: 'A stereotype hiding in plain sight'". BBC. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b Leight, Elias (September 28, 2017). "'Simpsons' Doc 'The Problem with Apu' Confronts South Asian Stereotypes". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  4. ^ Rao, Mallika (20 September 2013). "Is It Time To Retire Apu?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Hari Takes Aim at a Beloved Stereotype". truTV. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  6. ^ Kondabolu, Hari (2012). "Mindy Kaling, Apu & Indian Americans". Totally Biased. FX.
  7. ^ a b c d e Ito, Robert (10 November 2017). "You Love 'The Simpsons'? Then Let's Talk About Apu". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  8. ^ Azaria, Hank (2004-12-06). "Fresh Air". National Public Radio (Interview). Interviewed by Terry Gross. Philadelphia: WHYY-FM. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
  9. ^ Matz, Jenni (April 6, 2015). "Hank Azaria". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  10. ^ Meraji, Shereen Marisol; Demby, Gene (November 15, 2017). "Live From Chicago...It's Code Switch!". NPR.org. National Public Radio. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b Page-Kirby, Kristen (9 November 2017). "See 'The Problem with Apu,' Netflix hit 'Okja' and the Alexandria Film Festival". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  12. ^ Ramanathan, Lavanya (November 9, 2017). "He loved 'The Simpsons.' But Hari Kondabolu has a problem with Apu". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  13. ^ Steinberg, Don (8 November 2017). "'The Problem with Apu' Explores Ethnic Issues in 'The Simpsons'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  14. ^ "November 13, 2017 – Hari Kondabolu" (Video). The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Season 3 (Television program) (23). Comedy Central. November 13, 2017.
  15. ^ "The Problem with Apu (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
  16. ^ "The Problem With Apu". Metacritic. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
  17. ^ "'The Problem With Apu': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  18. ^ "Ay caramba! Is 'The Simpsons' really racist? Consider 'The Problem With Apu'". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  19. ^ ""The Problem with Apu" and the FCC - Los Angeles Review of Books". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-12-24.
  20. ^ "Hari Kondabolu Doesn't Know How to Solve 'The Problem With Apu'". The Ringer. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  21. ^ "TV picks for Nov. 19-23: 'The Problem With Apu,' 'Godless,' 'Anne of Green Gables'".
  22. ^ Mazza, Ed (11 October 2018). "Surprise South Park Ending Is a Massive Troll of The Simpsons". HuffPost.
  23. ^ Parker, Trey; Stone, Matt (2019). South Park season 22 DVD commentary for the episode "A problem with a Poo" (DVD). Comedy Central.
  24. ^ https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/simpsons-showrunner-responds-south-park-apu-ending-1151504
  25. ^ Desta, Yohana (April 9, 2018). "The Simpsons Still Doesn't Understand the Problem with Apu". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  26. ^ Harris, Aisha (April 9, 2018). "The Simpsons Addressed Hari Kondabolu's Problem With Apu By Shrugging at the Problem". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  27. ^ Holmes, Linda (April 9, 2018). "'The Simpsons' To 'The Problem With Apu': Drop Dead". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  28. ^ Wilstein, Matt (2018-04-09). "The Simpsons' 'Sad' Response to 'The Problem with Apu'". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  29. ^ Framke, Caroline (April 9, 2018). "The Simpsons responds to Apu controversy with a shrug about political correctness". Vox. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  30. ^ Rahman, Abid (April 9, 2018). "'The Simpsons' Addresses Apu Stereotype Controversy". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  31. ^ Keveney, Bill (April 27, 2018). "'The Simpsons' exclusive: Matt Groening (mostly) remembers the show's record 636 episodes". USA Today. Retrieved May 2, 2018.

External links

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is a recurring character in the animated TV series The Simpsons. He is an Indian immigrant proprietor who runs the Kwik-E-Mart, a popular convenience store in Springfield, and is best known for his catchphrase, "Thank you, come again." He is voiced by Hank Azaria and first appeared in the episode "The Telltale Head".

Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ismail Ansari (; born February 23, 1983) is an American actor, writer, producer, director, and comedian. He is known for his role as Tom Haverford on the NBC series Parks and Recreation (2009–2015), and as creator and star of the Netflix series Master of None (2015–2017) for which he won several acting and writing awards, including two Emmys and a Golden Globe for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy. With his Golden Globe win, Ansari became the first actor of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe for acting in television.Ansari began his career performing stand-up comedy in New York City in mid-2000 while attending New York University. In 2007, he created and starred in the MTV sketch comedy show Human Giant, which ran for two seasons. This led to acting roles in feature films, including Funny People; I Love You, Man; Observe and Report; and 30 Minutes or Less. He has provided voice work in Ice Age: Continental Drift and Epic.

As a stand-up comedian, Ansari released his debut comedy special, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, in January 2010 on Comedy Central Records, and tours nationally between acting commitments. In 2010 and 2011, he performed his Dangerously Delicious tour, which was self-released for download on his website in March 2012 and debuted on Comedy Central in May 2012. He completed his third major tour, Buried Alive, in the summer of 2013. His fourth comedy special, Live at Madison Square Garden, was released on Netflix in 2015. His first book, Modern Romance: An Investigation, was released in June 2015. He was included in the Time 100 list of most influential people in 2016. His fifth comedy special, Aziz Ansari: Right Now, was released on July 9, 2019 by Netflix.

Hank Azaria

Henry Albert Azaria ( ə-ZAIR-ee-ə; born April 25, 1964) is an American actor, voice actor, singer, comedian and producer. He is known for his voice characterizations as a variety of characters in the animated sitcom The Simpsons (1989–present), which has included Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson and others. After attending Tufts University, he joined the series with little voice acting experience, but became a regular in its second season, with many of his performances on the show being based on famous actors and characters.

In addition to his work on The Simpsons, Azaria became more widely known for his live-action appearances in feature films such as The Birdcage (1996), Godzilla (1998), Mystery Men (1999), America's Sweethearts (2001), Shattered Glass (2003), Along Came Polly (2004), Run Fatboy Run (2007), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and The Smurfs (2011). Since 2017, he has starred as the titular character in Brockmire.

Azaria had recurring roles on the television series Mad About You and Friends, as the titular character in the drama Huff (2004–2006) and appeared in the popular stage musical Spamalot. Originally known as a comedic actor, he has also taken on more dramatic roles, including the TV films Tuesdays With Morrie (1999) and Uprising (2001). He has won six Emmys and a Screen Actors Guild Award. He was married to actress Helen Hunt from 1999 to 2000 and has been married to actress Katie Wright since 2007.

Hari Kondabolu

Hari Karthikeya Kondabolu (Telugu: హరి కొండబోలు; born 1982) is an American stand-up comic, actor, filmmaker, and podcast host. His comedy covers subjects such as race, identity, inequality, and the LGBT community. He was a writer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.

List of The Daily Show episodes (2017)

This is a list of episodes for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in 2017.

Mathew Klickstein

Mathew Klickstein is an American screenwriter, journalist, author, arts therapist and playwright.

No Good Read Goes Unpunished

"No Good Read Goes Unpunished" is the fifteenth episode of the twenty-ninth season of the animated television series The Simpsons, and the 633rd episode of the series overall. It aired in the United States on Fox on April 8, 2018.

Russell Peters

Russell Dominic Peters (born September 29, 1970) is a Canadian stand-up comedian and actor. He began performing in Toronto in 1989 and won a Gemini Award in 2008. In 2013, he was number three on Forbes' list of the world's highest-paid comedians, and became the first comedian to get a Netflix stand-up special. He also won the Peabody Award and the International Emmy Award for Best Arts Programming for producing Hip-Hop Evolution (2016). He currently lives in Los Angeles.

The Problem with a Poo

"The Problem with a Poo" is the third episode of the twenty-second season of the American animated television series South Park. The 290th overall episode of the series, it aired on Comedy Central in the United States on October 10, 2018.

The episode explores modern political correctness as the people of South Park turn against longtime recurring character Mr. Hankey, and Vice Principal Strong Woman and PC Principal deal with the fallout from their fling at the end of the previous season. These themes are also seen in the episode's references to the documentary The Problem with Apu, the cancellation of Roseanne after controversial tweets by the show's eponymous actress, and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The Simpsons

The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical depiction of working-class life, epitomized by the Simpson family, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional town of Springfield and parodies American culture and society, television, and the human condition.

The family was conceived by Groening shortly before a solicitation for a series of animated shorts with producer James L. Brooks. Groening created a dysfunctional family and named the characters after his own family members, substituting Bart for his own name. The shorts became a part of The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. After three seasons, the sketch was developed into a half-hour prime time show and became Fox's first series to land in the Top 30 ratings in a season (1989–90).

Since its debut on December 17, 1989, 665 episodes of The Simpsons have been broadcast. It is the longest-running American sitcom, and the longest-running American scripted primetime television series, both in terms of seasons and number of episodes. The Simpsons Movie, a feature-length film, was released in theaters worldwide on July 27, 2007, and grossed over $527 million. Then on October 30, 2007, a video game was released. Currently, The Simpsons finished airing its thirtieth season, which

began airing September 30, 2018. The Simpsons was renewed for a thirty-first and thirty-second season on February 6, 2019, in which the latter will contain the 700th episode. The Simpsons is a joint production by Gracie Films and 20th Century Fox Television and syndicated by 20th Television.The Simpsons received acclaim throughout its first nine or ten seasons, which are generally considered its "Golden Age". Time named it the 20th century's best television series, and Erik Adams of The A.V. Club named it "television's crowning achievement regardless of format". On January 14, 2000, the Simpson family was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 34 Primetime Emmy Awards, 30 Annie Awards, and a Peabody Award. Homer's exclamatory catchphrase "D'oh!" has been adopted into the English language, while The Simpsons has influenced many other later adult-oriented animated sitcoms. However, it has also been criticized for a perceived decline in quality over the years.

The Simpsons returned to Animation Domination on September 29, 2019.

XOXO (festival)

XOXO is an annual festival and conference held in Portland, Oregon, that describes itself as "celebrating independently produced art and technology". XOXO was founded in 2012 by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan with funding from prepaid tickets and other contributions via Kickstarter, and it was described by the New York Times as an "experimental" conference.

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