We could very well be saying sayonara to The Simpsons‘ Kwik-E-Mart owner. In a recent interview with IndieWire, producer Adi Shankar said that he “verified from multiple sources” that the longtime character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon would be dropped. He claimed the decision is being made to deal with the controversy of racial stereotyping in The Simpsons.
This decision follows the large amounts of backlash that Apu has received in recent years. Many felt that the character was a racist caricature of Indians that played on too many negative stereotypes. Particular criticism went towards the accent that actor Hank Azaria used for Apu. By his own admission, Azaria said that during initial conversations with the writers for the character, they asked him “Can you do an Indian accent and how offensive can you make it?” and although he responded that it was “a little stereotypical”, the writers expressed indifference and told him to go ahead with it anyway.
Shankar, who has worked on projects like Dredd and Lone Survivor, expressed disappointment that The Simpsons’ producers axed Apu. He felt that “[i]f you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice”.
Shankar has a personal hand in the Apu situation. April of this year, the 33-year-old Indian producer launched a spec script competition to deal with what has been dubbed ‘The Apu Problem”. His aim was to deal with the “inaccurate, fabricated archetype” of the character and write him “into a fresh, funny and realistic portrayal of Indians in America”.
The winner of the competition is Vishaal Buch, a family doctor living in Bethesda, Maryland in the US. Shankar was initially hoping that Fox would produce Buch’s winning script but it was not to be. Instead, he received news from two people working on the show as well as a source close to The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, that the character would be axed altogether.
Although in the past, Matt Groening has dismissed the racist accusations as “a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended”, actor Hank Azaria has publicly stated he will step down from the role if need be.
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