The Simpsons creator says Apu was a ‘Tribute’ to Indian Culture

Matt Groening, the creator of the controversial series ‘The Simpsons’ has opened up about Apu in an interview calling him a ‘tribute’ to Indian culture.

Creator of Apu, Matt Groening

"Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years?"

Creator of the animated TV series, The Simpsons, Matt Groening shared his thoughts and feelings on the highly-criticised character of Apu in an interview.

Having been aired by Fox for nearly 30 years, The Simpsons is well-accustomed to receiving social criticism over its characters who, for the most part, are all steeped in stereotypes.

One of the largest debates surrounding the long-running series revolves around the depiction of Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

His stereotypical portrayal was criticised by South Asian audiences which came to their attention after Hari Kondabolu made his documentary, “The Problem with Apu”.

Groening continued to defend the character. However, Hank Azaria, a Caucasian man who voices Apu, was “perfectly willing and happy to step aside” following the controversy.

In a discussion with the host on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the voice actor added:

“I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people … about what they feel and how they think about this character and what their American experience of it has been.”

Despite this, an episode that aired in April saw a scene between mother-daughter characters Marge and Lisa that seemed to support Groening’s argument in the Apu-controversy.

Before looking at a picture of Apu, Lisa complains to her mother Marge with the following short speech. She says:

“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect.”

In an original interview with the New York Times, Matt Groening has now opened up about the character of Apu. He added that the conversation over Apu had stagnated, saying:

“Well, I love Apu. 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.

“It seems very, very clunky. I love the character. I love the show.”

In the interview, Groening also mentioned how Apu had been named after the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray – a trio of Bengali films.

As such, Apu had been a product of South Asia and the Indian culture that he had been exposed to. He said:

“I love Indian culture and Indian film and Indian music. I thought that the name was a signal that we had, at least, a scholarly intention.

Groening went on to illustrate his thought process behind naming Apu. He added:

“I thought maybe a kid was going to grow up and find out what the name came from and go watch the Apu Trilogy, which are the greatest films, basically, in the history of cinema.”

Speaking about his previous comment “people love to pretend they’re offended,” he clarified that this comment wasn’t aimed at Apu. He said:

“That wasn’t specifically about Apu. That was about our culture in general. And that’s something I’ve noticed for the last 25 years. There is the outrage of the week and it comes and goes.”

He added:

“I think particularly right now, people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they’re picking the wrong battles.”

Addressing Hari Kondabolu and his documentary, the Simpsons creator said that he believes they would agree on most things, just not Apu. He said:

“My guess is I agree, politically, with 99 percent of the things that Hari Kondabolu believes. We just disagree on Apu. I love the character and I would hate for him to go away.

Groening went on to controversially ask whether there was a better animated Indian character than that of Apu. He continued:

“I am sorry that “The Simpsons” would be criticised for having an Indian character that, because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it.

“I go, maybe he’s a problem, but who’s better? Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years? I’ve been to India twice and talked about “The Simpsons” in front of audiences.”

Understandably, some Twitter-users have reacted to Groening’s interview rather negatively.

They claim that his love for Indian culture doesn’t mean that he can create a trope-filled character.

Referencing Groening’s comment that Apu was the best Indian animated character, one Twitter user retorted saying it was “both untrue and annoying.”

She went on to attach to her post an article that featured a collection of several brilliant Indian cartoon characters.

Another user said he was “unfortunately predictable” in pretending that Apu has not been criticised for decades.

Whilst other Twitter-users used sarcasm to highlight the issues they found with Groening referencing his experiences with Indian culture as a justification for the character.

It seems that despite Groening’s attempts to settle the controversy which was at its peak in May 2018, he has only infuriated the situation.

His comments that are intended to justify the character of Apu, have made the situation much worse.

Based on the reaction from Twitter, perhaps he should be taking a similar attitude to that of Hank Azaria.

Matt Groening will next be seen in San Diego for Comic-Con.

Ellie is an English literature and Philosophy graduate who enjoys writing, reading and exploring new places. She is a Netflix-enthusiast who also has a passion for social and political issues. Her motto is: “Enjoy life, never take anything for granted.”

Images courtesy of Fox and David Banks/The New York Times

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