In an interview published last Friday, producer Adi Shankar (Dredd, Netflix’s Castlevania) incorrectly claimed to IndieWire that The Simpsons would soon be dropping the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from the show:
“I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now: They’re going to drop the Apu character altogether. They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy.”
Shankar did note that he received this new from two individuals who actually work for The Simpsons as well as a third source who works with The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening.
This claim by Shankar sparked a torrent of articles and news announcements from outlets such as Newsweek, Huffington Post, and Daily Mail concerning Apu’s potential disappearance. These articles all cited Shankar’s credible interview as the source of this confirmation.
However, Shankar’s statement was quickly refuted by veteran The Simpsons producer Al Jean, indicating that there are currently no plans for Apu to exit the show:
Adi Shankar is not a producer on the Simpsons. I wish him the very best but he does not speak for our show.
— Al Jean (@AlJean) October 28, 2018
The character of Apu has been a longtime staple and fan favorite of the show, with Apu’s first appearance being in the Season 1 episode The Telltale Head. Recently, the character became the spotlight of controversy after comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary that chronicles Kondabolu’s experience with Indian and South Asian representation in American television, ranging from his childhood love for Apu to his reasoning behind his later viewpoint that Apu is an outdated racist stereotype, called The Problem With Apu.
This documentary sparked widespread debate between fans over whether the character of Apu was an inherently racist depiction, with many critics of his character calling for Apu’s removal from the show (in fact, Shankar held a competition to write a script which positively changes Apu’s depiction). Kondabolu, seen by many as the leading proponent of Apu’s removal, did respond to Shankar’s announcement by stating that:
Agreed. There are so many ways to make Apu work without getting rid of him. If true, this sucks. https://t.co/czBDIvaTV0
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) October 26, 2018
One of the critical points regarding the Apu controversy is the fact that Apu is voiced by Hank Azaria, whose role is referred to by Kondabolu as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.” Supporters of this stance believe that because he is Indian, Apu should be played by someone of Indian descent, in order to be respectful in their representation. They also believe that many of the mannerisms on display in Apu’s character, such as his iconic phrase “Thank you, come again!” are overtly racist caricatures created by a white man’s interpretation of Indian culture and accents.
Critics of this viewpoint believe that because Azaria’s performance does not rely on his skin color, ethnicity should have no bearing on the casting. The casting of voice actors voicing characters from an ethnicity different from their own, such as Phil LaMarr (Jack in Samurai Jack, Gambit in Wolverine and the X-men, Aquaman in Young Justice), Kevin Michael Richardson (Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Juggernaut in Ultimate Spider-Man, Lester Krinklesac in The Cleveland Show), or Cree Summers (White Tiger in Ultimate Spider-Man, Jennifer Walters in The Incredible Hulk, Elmyra Duff in Tiny Toon Adventures), are regularly cited in defense of Azaria’s continued role as Apu.
Despite this controversy and the many debates surrounding it, Apu has continued to appear on screen in episodes of The Simpsons and will continue to do so. Most recently, he was seen on screen in a wide shot of characters surrounding God in the episode My Way or the Highway to Heaven, which aired on October 14th, 2018. For the time being, Apu is staying at home in Springfield.