Youtube personality Adi Shankar is opening up a contest to address what has popularity been known as “the Apu Problem” on The Simpsons.
Drawing its name from The Problem With Apu, a documentary made by Hari Kondabolu, the Apu Problem is the perception by many prominent Indian-Americans and others that the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon perpetuates negative stereotypes. A related issue that many have is that he is voiced by Hank Azaria, who is Caucasian.
The issue has raised a lot of discussion since the documentary was released in 2017. Azaria himself has admitted that the character was not designed with much thought and that he would be willing to drop him. (Azaria voices many other Simpsons characters.) Many have noted that there are other stereotypical characters on the show, however, and that Apu has been fleshed out in other ways over his many years on the air.
A problem, of course, is that it is hard to change the problematic aspects of Apu without completely rewriting his character. But that, however, is what Shankar proposes to do.
Posted on Coverfly, the contest asks fans to craft a script that takes “the character of Apu and in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, intelligently writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a mean-spirited mockery and transforms him into a kernel of truth wrapped in funny insight, a.k.a. actual satire.”
The prize: Shankar will go to Fox Studios and pitch the winning script to become an actual episode. If it is rejected, he will finance its filming for Bootleg Universe, his project of making unauthorized adaptations of different properties.
Some will no doubt object to Shankar’s characterization of Apu as a “mean-spirited mockery”—such makes it sound as though he was designed to offend Southeast Asians—but it will be interesting to see what fans can come up with, and what the resulting episode, official or not, looks like.
The show had addressed the issue itself in two different episodes: “Much Apu About Something,” which had Apu’s nephew (voiced by Utkarsh Ambudkar, one of Apu’s critics) call him out on how stereotypical he is, and “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” which used a metaphor of Marge rereading a beloved book from her childhood and being surprised by how politically incorrect it is. The former was well-received, the latter deemed dismissive.