'The Simpsons' finally addressed the controversy surrounding Apu, but missed the point.

This isn't about offense or political correctness.

In November 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary called "The Problem With Apu."

The TruTV feature was a pretty powerful look into the life of Kondabolu and other South Asian actors who've struggled to sidestep the stereotype of "The Simpsons"' Kwik-E-Mart proprietor, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (a character voiced by Hank Azaria).

Throughout the documentary, Kondabolu tries and fails to get Azaria to agree to an on-camera interview about the character.


Nearly five months after the film's release, "The Simpsons" finally issued a response of sorts — though it's still unclear whether they actually understand the issue.

In the April 8 episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," Marge is seen reading a story to Lisa, struggling to update an outdated passage for the modern age.

"Well, what am I supposed to do?" Marge asks.

Lisa responds, rolling her eyes, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect... What can you do?"

All GIFs from "The Simpsons."

The shot pans out, showing a photo of Apu next to Lisa's bed.

"Some things will be dealt with at a later date," says Marge.

Lisa responds, "If at all." The two look directly at the audience. The segment seems to be a clear dismissal of Kondabolu's criticism.

The entire point of "The Problem With Apu" was to use pop culture as a starting point for a larger discussion about representation, not to urge for the censorship of past works.

Anyone who's actually seen the film knows that Kondabolu's hope was to see more authentic portrayals of marginalized people so that inaccurate and stereotypical versions are no longer the primary cultural point of reference.

In other words, the stereotypical Apu wouldn't be so bad if there were other diverse South Asian voices and characters in the media. "The Simpsons" didn't create the problem, but they could help solve it by taking steps to add additional characters that better represent and humanize those who are underrepresented.

The show's response suggests that won't be happening.

"If you only have a handful of images, and that's what defines a large group of people," Kondabolu said in an interview around the time of the documentary's release, "then each time you have a negative image or you go after that particular group, that's a big thing."

"We just have to control our stories to the best of our ability," he said. "That part's on us. I think that we need to call out portrayals when they are inaccurate, when they are homophobic, when they are transphobic, when they're racist and sexist, and when there's fundamental things about them that are not true about an experience."

Kondabolu is not "offended" by Apu. That needs to be made clear.

The backlash to the backlash (which, sadly, seems to be a thing these days) over Apu seems to hinge on the argument that people are just too easily offended these days, or something about "PC culture run amok!"

"Imagine getting butthurt about a cartoon character," one person tweeted at Kondabolu.

Again, though, it's not about offense.

People are disappointed the show wouldn't so much as engage in this discussion without distorting it to be about "political correctness." Kondabolu didn't call for Apu's banishment, for him to be scrubbed from past episodes, or anything of the sort. He simply wanted to have a discussion about the role pop culture plays in our lives and how we see others.

The reason people are upset with how "The Simpsons" responded is that they sidestepped the issue altogether and tried to reframe it as being about offense. It's not.

W. Kamau Bell, host of CNN's "United Shades of America," broke down why he stands with Kondabolu in trying to have these tough conversations.

We can never stop having discussions just because they're challenging, and we can never allow issues of representation be reframed as unimportant. This discussion matters — and Kondabolu was brave for trying to start it.

Bell's entire Twitter thread is worth reading, but these three tweets sum up the argument well:

"The Simpsons" may have dropped the ball on their response, but that doesn't mean Kondabolu and others will give up in the fight for better, more accurate media representation.

Most Shared

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended