The Simpsons’ writers have finally responded to comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem with Apu, and the response is drawing criticism from fans and comedians.
The documentary explores the issues with The Simpsons’ portrayal of Apu, one of the only South Asian characters on the show. Kondabolu talks to a series of South Asian celebrities and academics about the stereotype of South Asian people that The Simpsons and voice actor Hank Azaria propagated through the character of Apu. Kondabolu’s documentary was released last November, and was met with a divisive reception from critics, with some applauding the various actors who spoke out on the issue and others asking for more defenders of Apu to appear.
The Simpsons finally defended itself in an episode that aired last night, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” using a conversation between Lisa and Marge as a vehicle to deliver the response.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect,” Lisa tells her mother. “What can you do?”
“Some things will be dealt with a later date,” Marge replies, to which Lisa says, “if at all.”
#TheSimpsons completely toothless response to @harikondabolu #TheProblemWithApu about the racist character Apu:— Soham (@soham_burger) April 9, 2018
"Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect... What can you do?" pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN
Celebrities and Simpsons fans called out the reply to Kondabolu’s documentary, with many criticisms centering on the scene’s dismissive tone. Kondabolu also spoke out, describing the scene as “sad.”
“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” Kondabolu tweeted. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”
In a follow-up, Kondabolu said, “In The Problem with Apu, 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.”
In “The Problem with Apu,” 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.— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
Kondabolu’s tweets were met with insults from Simpsons defenders who saw no issue with the scene or depiction of Apu in general, calling him out for hating on the series. Kondabolu is a self-professed fan of The Simpsons, explaining in his documentary that he wanted to talk about the problem with Apu because it’s a show that means the world to him.
“I don’t hate The Simpsons,” Kondabolu said. “In fact, I have always loved The Simpsons. It’s one of the main reasons that I knew you could be smart and funny and political at the same time... I know Apu is one of the smartest characters on The Simpsons — granted that the bar isn’t set very high — but that’s not why people liked him. They just liked his accent.”
W. Kamau Bell, a comedian and host of CNN’s United States of America, spoke out against The Simpsons’ writers using the character of Lisa Simpson to voice their defense.
“I think the fact that they put this ‘argument’ in the mouth of Lisa’s character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response,” Bell said. “My friend Hari Kondabolu made a beautiful & powerful film. It took guts to do it. He knew he was going after a sacred cow. (Pun intended.)
“He knew many people would just watch the trailer or see the poster or just hear the title & immediately just hate on it & him.”
Al Jean, a longtime executive producer and writer on The Simpsons, tweeted before the episode aired that its third act would cause a “Twitter explosion.” He responded to criticism later in the evening, retweeting people who called Kondabolu’s thoughts a “non-issue.”
Polygon has reached out to Fox for further comment.