Apu, A Racist Caricature Of South Asians, Faces Reckoning In New Documentary

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Apu, A Racist Caricature Of South Asians, Faces Reckoning In New Documentary


South Asian–American celebrities like Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, and Mindy Kaling have accomplished exceptional luck lately. They’ve performed multidimensional characters, created their very own displays and helped the country perceive all of the struggles and joys of the immigrant enjoy.

However there’s one personality who remains to be hopelessly caught prior to now, when it used to be appropriate for Indians to be mocked and stereotyped on nationwide tv: Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

For almost 30 years, Apu has been a fixture within the fictional the town of Springfield, the house of “The Simpsons.” The nature remains to be operating on the the town’s Kwik-E-Mart. He’s nonetheless identified for his accessory and his ridiculous catchphrase. He’s nonetheless being voiced by way of Hank Azaria, a white voice actor. 


Hari Kondabolu, a Brooklyn-based comic, believes the time has come for Apu ― and extra necessary, the forces that created the nature ― to stand a reckoning.

He’s taking on those large problems in his new documentary, “The Downside With Apu.” 

Within the movie, Kondabolu interviews a lot of as of late’s largest South Asian–American celebrities, together with Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Aparna Nancherla. He asks them about their very own relationships with Apu, and the difficulties they’ve had in getting non-stereotypical roles.

Kondabolu has had an advanced courting with Apu himself. He’s an established fan of “The Simpsons,” and is aware of that Apu is a loved personality. However for years, this exaggerated cool animated film used to be one of the crucial handiest representations that South Asians had of themselves in popular culture. 

“Those photographs have affect. And it’s a part of a bigger legacy,” Kondabolu advised HuffPost, linking Apu to different circumstances of white actors the usage of blackface or brownface to stereotype other folks of colour. “This has been there for the reason that starting, the theory of dressed in out other folks and describing other folks in those one-dimensional tactics. It provides you with a way of energy over them. You’re higher than they’re, you’re smarter than they’re. You’re the person who suits they usually don’t.”


“Discrimination doesn’t magically display up. It’s a must to learn, you must be educated, you must be conditioned. I feel there’s a conditioning that occurs on account of media,” he mentioned.

Kondabolu additionally makes an attempt to talk to the folks in the back of “The Simpsons” for his or her ideas on Apu for the movie. Azaria, the voice of Apu, particularly refuses to talk with the comic.  

In the end even though, Kondabolu mentioned that the guts of the movie isn’t about looking to publicly disgrace Azaria for giving Apu an accessory, and even to get Apu off the air. For this comic, it’s about beginning a dialogue in regards to the want for variety ― each on-screen and within the writers room.

“If my possible choices are spending my power specializing in getting Apu off the air, or writing and developing one thing that may be a multidimensional personality that displays our exact upbringings, our households, our lives, I’d somewhat do the latter,” Kondabolu mentioned. “That’s what the task of an inventive is. This isn’t about punishment, this isn’t about like issues getting fastened. It’s about the place can we pass from right here.”

HuffPost spoke with Kondabolu in regards to the objectives in the back of his documentary and his ideas on illustration within the media as of late.


What’s it like for you, viscerally, while you pay attention and notice Apu?

It bothers me. Indubitably, I used to be very conscious that the way in which Apu is represented is how my oldsters are observed to some extent. I used to be embarrassed about their accents, I used to be embarrassed to have pals come over, I used to be embarrassed once they spoke. It’s embarrassing to me now as an grownup, that I in reality felt that manner about my very own oldsters, who gave me the whole thing, who themselves needed to sacrifice a lot of their very own pleasure to present me a super lifestyles. It’s frightening to suppose that the media is in a position to affect me to really feel that. That’s the deeper belongings you don’t understand to start with. It more or less burrows into who you’re and you’ve got a lot of these insecurities that are meant to no longer be there.

Why do you suppose maximum of our oldsters’ technology didn’t discuss up as loudly about how they’re represented within the media?

As a result of you must stay your head down and paintings. The chance is, if I make noise, I am getting fired. If I make noise, that might value me or my circle of relatives come what may. Or, I simply don’t have time. There are extra necessary issues, rightfully. I don’t query that. I take into account that. My mother mentioned [representation] didn’t trouble her as a lot till she learned her children had been being made amusing of after which she learned this stuff have affect. This stuff topic. For our oldsters, their complete factor is simply paintings, get thru it, it doesn’t topic. For us, we have now a rightful sense of entitlement. That is the place I grew up. That is my house. That is my house. How come I’m no longer being observed as equivalent?


Do you suppose this movie would were imaginable 10 years in the past? What has modified about our society all the way through that point?

No person would have funded this 10 years in the past. I actually do imagine that. I feel the dialogue of illustration used to be sufficiently big, particularly with Asian-American citizens. I additionally suppose there wasn’t a essential mass of South Asian actors and media figures and govt officers ready the place other folks would wish to pay attention from them. Ten years in the past, we’re speaking about 2007. Aziz [Ansari] wasn’t who Aziz is now. There’s a large number of individuals who don’t have the similar pull. Mindy used to be any person on “The Workplace.” That’s other than any person who has their very own display and who’s influential and writes books. As our affect as South Asians has higher, that ends up in extra other folks in need of to understand who we’re and what we predict and the way we really feel. Ten years in the past, I don’t suppose it wouldn’t were imaginable. To not say it wasn’t related.  Ten years in the past, I might have mentioned it used to be much more related. However that is the outlet and the time frame we were given. 


May just you chart a trajectory for the way Apu has transform much less appropriate? Are there any key moments in our cultural historical past that you simply glance again to, as reference issues?

Indubitably, it’s the advent of extra difficult characters. Kal Penn in “Harold and Kumar.” I understand that film being observed as this innovative film when it got here out. It’s a stoner movie, however on the time, the object that used to be thrilling used to be, “Oh my God. He’s Indian-American. He’s no longer an Indian cool animated film.” Kal had performed that Van Wilder personality Taj Mahal and it used to be simply this one-dimensional personality and that’s what we had observed him in. And unexpectedly it’s like, holy crap, he will get to play an actual individual. This can be a individual extra like us.

And likewise the nature used to be a little of a jerk. He in reality has some complication. It’s unhappy that’s that is what’s innovative ― “Oh, glance it’s brown other folks they usually sound like us they usually smoke weed.” However on the time, it used to be surprising as a result of we weren’t allowed to have any voice in any respect. That used to be an enormous second. Aasif Mandvi being on “The Day-to-day Display.” That used to be massive. This used to be the largest display on TV nowadays and Aasif in any case made it. Numerous such things as that. Individuals who were given to wreck thru and communicate as human beings. That’s a large deal.

What would you inform Hank Azaria if you should communicate to him now?

This isn’t actually about him. We used the Hank stuff as a story tool. It provides the movie a point of interest to get thru it. That’s no longer what the movie is ready. The movie is in regards to the problems, it’s in regards to the dialog, the legacy. I feel in our tradition we adore flogging other folks, we adore public disgrace. We adore to damage other folks. However then what? That’s no longer productive. I don’t care about the one that did this actual paintings, I care in regards to the machine. What’s the machine? I feel everyone’s like, “Will you damage him?” Truthfully, who cares? Numerous other folks don’t even watch “The Simpsons” anymore or know who Apu is. I care much less about him. I care extra in regards to the concepts.

You speak about patanking within the movie. [Patanking, a phrase coined by way of the actress Sakina Jaffrey, is a phrase utilized by South Asian actors to explain an accessory that administrators would possibly ask them to place on. It’s a disembodied cool animated film of an Indian accessory that sounds unique to a non-Indian ear.] How do you are feeling about Indian American actors patanking? When do you suppose that’s OK?

I feel I used to be so much harsher about the ones issues when I used to be more youthful. However now, I perceive. You wish to have to be a operating actor and also you imagine that finally, you’ll get paintings that justifies what you’re doing. And no less than actors of South Asian heritage can provide a personality dignity that’s undignified. For the reason that personality goes to exist. If we don’t play it, they’ll get a white man to play it. I take into account that and I sympathize.

I hate the truth it used to be important now and then. I believe lucky that I’m a comic and no longer an actor essentially. Actors are caught. They get anyone else’s writing they usually make possible choices. Like, “Do I wish to take this or no longer, do I would like this spoil or no longer?” For comedians, it’s like, if I don’t wish to do a definite phase, I’ll simply inform jokes like I usually do. I’ve a point of regulate and freedom that they don’t have. I’m actually lucky in that regard.


On one hand, it’s wonderful when South Asian actors are forged in roles that don’t explicitly need to do with their race. But it surely’s additionally necessary to have South Asian American actors at the display reflecting the neighborhood’s reviews ― speaking about all of the demanding situations and victories that include being South Asian American. How do you discover a stability between the ones two objectives?

The perfect scenario is a multidimensional personality. Once I stroll round, I don’t suppose to myself, “I’m Indian everyone, glance, I’m Indian!” If it comes up, it comes up. But when it doesn’t, I’m simply functioning like a human being. It’s different people who make me really feel my pores and skin regularly. Being in a stability approach you’re no longer embarrassed and also you’re no longer hiding who you’re. On the similar time, who you’re is far broader than positive racial or cultural traits and identities.

As a content material writer, as the one that creates these items, as an individual who’s desirous about writing and generating a part of it, I’m hoping for multidimensional characters. And I’m hoping that there’s extra brown other folks, other folks of colour, girls, individuals of the LGBTQ neighborhood in writers’ rooms, which might be normally white-male-dominated. That ends up in horrible, inconsistent portrayals. It’s cool that you simply’re my white best friend, however how about as an alternative of talking for me, get a few of us employed on. As a result of I believe like that’s the larger drawback. The actors are the individuals who get the scraps on the finish. The true advent of the stuff, that doesn’t occur anyplace close to them.

This interview has been edited for readability and duration.

“The Downside With Apu” premieres Sunday, Nov. 19, at 10 p.m. ET on truTV.



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