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We live in a brave new world that is often unrecognizable from an era as recent as the 1990s. Culturally, things are changing at a rapid pace—from the #MeToo movement where women rightfully demand to be treated as people and seek justice, to Black Lives Matter, which seeks for the slaying of innocent people of color by police officers comes to an end. People of all walks of life are recognizing that their voices might actually be heard in this nascent, imperfect phase of national woke-ness, if you will, and conversations that might’ve been dismissed a few years ago are now taken far more seriously. For Queens-born, second-generation Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu, it was the representation of southeast Asians in U.S. pop culture that he felt was important to address—with last year’s documentary The Problem with Apu using the Kwiki Mart character of The Simpsons as a way to start that conversation. Thankfully, the universally-beloved FOX show finally addressed Kondabolu’s concerns on last night’s episode. Unfortunately, the response was, well, imperfect and somewhat dismissive.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, in last night’s episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” Marge is reading an edited version of The Princess in the Garden to her daughter Lisa, with both characters quickly realizing that this modern copy has removed much of the book’s substance and “emotional journey” by removing any potentially offensive and insensitive material. The two characters then mention Apu—subject of Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary—and address the controversy by breaking the fourth wall. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect,” Lisa says. “What can you do?” Clearly, Kondabolu—and thousands of other viewers—was less than impressed by the show’s response.
We previously reported on Hank Azaria’s response to Kondabolu’s film, stating “the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot to think about,” and that “anybody was hurt and offended by any character or vocal performance is really upsetting, that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.” Kondabolu was not pleased back than, either, as it seems The Simpsons and the actors behind it can’t seem to properly deal with their influence on the image and esteem of southeast Asian-Americans across the country.
We are on a continuous climb to refine and improve our national, cultural behaviors. There is so much work to do, in regards to representation on-screen, equality behind it, and the responses to concerns of others. Unfortunately, it seems The Simpsons might have become a relic of old, more imperfect times past, and we as a society may have to look at it as such. Kondabolu and his warranted frustrations about Apu—and representations like these—should’ve been taken more seriously. We can no longer afford dismissing others by using the 1990s as a barometer for what is acceptable or what isn’t. Apu’s portrayal was insensitive then, and it still is now. Here’s hoping for a more fruitful, productive conversation resulting from last night’s mess.
For those who haven't seen The Problem With Apu, it is currently streaming on truTV.com.