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Indian-American producer Adi Shankar set out to help solve what has become known as The Simpsons’ “Apu Problem.”
The show’s character has long been a staple in the series, as a convenience store owner, voiced by Hank Azaria. However, Apu’s character has been controversial, largely because many thought he was an incorrect representation of Indian-Americans.
This past April, Shankar put out a call to crowd-source a script that “in a clever way subverts [Apu], pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a creation that was the byproduct of a predominately Harvard-educated white male writers’ room and transforms it into a fresh, funny and realistic portrayal of Indians in America.”
Shankar’s goal was for Fox to produce the script as an episode of The Simpsons. However, after he found the “perfect script” and shared the contest’s winner, he told IndieWire that he’s heard The Simpsons is cutting Apu altogether. “They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy,” Shankar told IndieWire. Shankar received the news from two people who work for the show, and a third source who works with creator Matt Groening.
Speaking with the New York Times in July, Groening touched on Apu, saying, “I love the character, and it makes me feel bad that it makes other people feel bad. But on the other hand, it’s tainted now—the conversation, there’s no nuance to the conversation now."
IndieWire reached out to Fox for further comment, to which a Simpsons representative said, “Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode ‘My Way or the Highway to Heaven.’” However, in that episode, Apu is only featured in a single shot with a number of other characters, who are all huddled around God.
In 2017, after Hari Kondabolu released his documentary The Problem With Apu, The Simpsons mocked the controversy in an episode titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” which took a dig at show critics’ political correctness. In May, the show’s only original writer Matt Reiss told Vanity Fair that the show handled the Apu problem in 2016, with the episode “Much Apu About Something.” According to Reiss, Apu “barely had a line in the past three seasons.”
Shankar believes cutting Apu’s character is a mistake. “If 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 said. “It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways. After having read all these wonderful scripts, I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn’t solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.”
The winning script for Shankar’s contest was from a man named Vishaal Buch, a doctor who lives in Bethesda Maryland. Buch’s episode shows the evolution of Apu from the owner of one convenience store, to a successful businessman in Springfield. Shankar is now working with Buch on tightening the script; Shankar will produce the episode through his Bootleg Universe YouTube account.