Viewers of last night’s episode of The Simpsons noticed that the show’s writers responded to critics of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, including one critic who made a film about Apu. Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s film The Problem With Apu critiqued Apu’s portrayal as one of few TV representations of South Asians in the 1990s-2000s, and examined the brownface, modern minstrel and patanking-inflected nature of the character being voiced by white actor Hank Azaria.
In last night’s Episode 15 of the series’ Season 29 (“No Good Read Goes Unpunished”), a scene with Marge reading daughter Lisa an updated version of The Princess in the Garden (updated to address stereotypes) features a bedside photo of Apu captioned “Don’t have a cow.” Have a look in this clip:
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect… What can you do?” pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN
— Soham (@soham_burger) April 9, 2018
Lisa: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Marge: “Some things will be dealt with at a later date” Lisa: “If at all.”
Kondabolu responded to the clip on Twitter, saying “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.” He also referred to the “Don’t have a cow, Apu” on the photo of Apu as the writers having “double-downed on white.”
He added, “I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
TV host and comic W. Kamau Bell, who was seen in The Problem With Apu talking about how he had encouraged Kondabolu’s initial Apu commentary on Totally Biased, also shared thoughts on Twitter about the message sent by last night’s episode. Bell shared some of his comments in a Twitter thread starting with “The Simpsons, 1989 – 2018
The “argument” the episode makes is basically things used to better before political correctness when nobody cared about all these groups. It ignores the facts that ALL THESE GROUPS ALWAYS CARED ABOUT ALL THESE GROUPS. But these groups’ complaints weren’t respected/supported.
“Don’t have a cow” sounds like something perpetual fourth-grader Bart Simpson might say. But these words appear to be signed by Apu in the photo. In this way the show used the South Asian character (who is voiced by a white actor and writers) to dismiss or downplay concerns from South Asian Americans about how the racist caricature of Apu continues to shape the way they are perceived by other Americans.