Apu from “The Simpsons”: cherished or controversial?

After months of controversy over the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, The Simpsons announced in late October that it will drop Apu from the show. To some, this  marks a long-awaited victory. To others,it is the removal of a beloved character. Nahasapeemapetilon — or more easily referred to as Apu due to his long, inaccurately South A s i a n last name—has been a character on The Simpsons since 1990. Equipped with a thick Indian accent—voiced by white actor Hank Azaria—and owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (following the stereotype that Indian immigrants are convenience store owners), Apu is The Simpson’s trademark“Indian character.”But since last year,with the release of Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, The Problem with Apu,the show has been receiving backlash on Apu’s reliance on stereotypes andg e n e r a l i z a t i o n s of Indian people and culture. K o n d a b o l u ’s d o c u m e n t a r y explains how Apu is one of the first representations of South Asians on the show, yet has been voiced for 29years by a white actor with a mocking and stereotypical Indian accent. The comedian characterizes the controversial character as a stingy, devious and goofy claiming that the show presents an entire culture in a negative light. This is what Kondabolu believes makes the character an embodiment of racist mockery.“Everything with Apu is like this running joke,” Kondabolu told the New York Times.“And the running joke is that he is Indian.”Apu’s characteristics—including his Hindu-related jokes and tendency to be cheap—are all based off of a cliché of Indian immigrants in America.Yet, not all Indian-Americans are opposed to having Apu on the show.For several decades, Apu was the only representation of Indian people on American television. He portrayed a typical image of Indians who had newly immigrated to the U.S.back in the 70s and 80s—a group many Americans did not know much about back when The Simpsons first started—and his sole purpose was to provoke a laugh.“Being racially aware is beneficial, but people took it too far when they became insulted by one character in a comedic cartoon filled with various stereotypes. Apu just fits into the comical nature of the show and his removal from it would add an awkward tension to the series.As a Malaysian-Indian male, I have never found the characteristics of Apu to be insulting,” Senior Tejas Nair said.But the controversy over Apu cannot be simplified down to“political correctness”—it is an issue about representation and how he affects the perception of Indians in the U.S.The common argument is that The Simpsons is a satire of American culture filled with stereotypes, therefore making Apu’s portrayal acceptable.Yet, he is one of the few examples of representation Indian-Americans have on television,and it is evident that his portrayal is problematic and creating a distorted perception of Indians in the U.S.“ Apu’s character has reinforced false Indian stereotypes and has become an inaccurate portrayal of Indians in media. Since there is already little representation of the culture, it is dangerous to have these stereotypical characters be the only link between Indian Americans and everyone else” Senior Sonali Chellappa said.Despite the controversy, one thing is for sure: Apu will no longer appear on the screens of millions.