Slated for release on November 19, 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem With Apu” highlights a long-time media elephant in the room: The extremely problematic portrayal of Asians in popular American media. More specifically, the film tackles the well-known character Apu from animated sitcom “The Simpsons”.
Sure, “The Simpsons” may have broken records for its longevity and cultural insights, but the character Apu is little more than an overplayed stereotype. Continuing in the decades-long Hollywood tradition of representing South Asians using over-the-top racist jokes, the Indian character is even voiced by a non-desi actor, Hank Azaria. Kondabolu’s documentary explores the cultural fallout created by such a character’s prominence and examines how it impacts real South Asians-Americans.
Naturally, some audiences might resist the documentary’s claims. On the other hand, it’s worth considering that even Azaria acknowledged the highly problematic aspects of the character, like the fact that Apu was one of the only pop culture representations of Indians on television when the show aired.

Dana Gould, an executive producer on the show, admits that the stereotypical Indian accent was one of the driving forces behind Apu’s appeal. In the official documentary trailer, Whoopi Goldberg notes the similarities between the character’s portrayal and blackface.
Interestingly, “The Problem With Apu” does more than just take a side against a fictional character. It lends a voice to people whose experiences in America were directly influenced by Apu’s existence. From Indian and South Asian children being subjected to slurs to professional actors with years of training being told to adopt the “Apu voice” for their performances, numerous South Asians discuss their negative experiences related to the character and other racist media tropes.

You may hate “The Simpsons” or be a die-hard fan. No matter where you stand, this is a great documentary that looks at media seriously and shares the viewpoints of Americans who have never been asked for their opinions even though they’re the ones who were affected.

“The Problem With Apu” premieres on November 19 at 10/9C on truTV.


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