The Simpsons may be dropping Apu Nahasapeemapetilon after outcry from the Indian American community that the character is a racist caricature.
In an interview with IndieWire published on Friday, producer Adi Shankar, who launched a competition to source a script that would write Apu in a way that “subverts him, pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him” beyond the racist trope envisioned, created, and voiced by white men, said he heard the Simpsons is ditching Apu altogether.
“I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now: They’re going to drop the Apu character altogether,” Shankar told IndieWire. “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 clarified that he got this news from two people who work for “The Simpsons” and a third source who works directly with creator Matt Groening.
Reached for comment on Shankar’s allegations, a representative for “The Simpsons” at Fox provided a cryptic response: “Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode ‘My Way or the Highway to Heaven.’” In the episode, Apu only appears in a single wide shot (below) that showed dozens of characters gathered around God.
In 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu explained why Apu’s character—which combines every stereotype white people have of Indians, including an outlandish accent, voiced by a white man—is racist in The Problem with Apu. The show has fielded criticism over Apu since then, defending the character at every opportunity. In April, the Simpsons ran a segment mocking the backlash, in which Marge tells Lisa that she can’t read an original version of a children’s book because it’s now deemed offensive. Lisa then says, as a photo of Apu sits on her nightstand (which is weird): “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
While no Apu is perhaps better than a racist Apu, the news is disheartening because as a self-aware, satirical show, the Simpsons had a chance to educate itself and its audience by reshaping the character instead. “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,” said Shankar. “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.”
On Twitter, Kondabolu expressed a similar sentiment. “There are so many ways to make Apu work without getting rid of him,” he wrote. “If true, this sucks.”