Groening reveals the inspiration behind Apu Image: Twitter
The racially offensive depiction of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in America's favourite animated sitcom, The Simpsons, has made way for a raging cultural debate, with names such as Priyanka Chopra and comedian Hari Kondabolu speaking out against it (the latter even has a successful documentary titled The Problem With Apu, which specifically explores how the portrayal of Apu affected the lives of Asian-Americans).
But The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has always insisted he does not see the problem with Apu and has even argued that people love to pretend they are offended.
Apu, the Indian-origin proprietor of a convenience store, has been one of the most prominent Asian figures in mainstream American pop culture, and his depiction on the show has been deemed as racist and adhering to inane stereotypes, associated with Asians, or Indian-Americans, to be specific.
But Groening recently revealed he thinks his audiences are often picking the wrong battles, and the character of Apu was actually a homage to celebrated Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
"Back in the day, I named the character after The Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray. 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. 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," Groening told The New York Times, about the character, voiced by actor Hank Azaria.
Groening also added the conversation around the racism debate has become tainted and is extremely cluttered. Interestingly, despite the relentless backlash, the creators of The Simpsons did very little to rectify the situation. Groening had also famously said earlier this year that people love to pretend they are offended.
"I think it's a time in our culture where people love to pretend they're offended...We'll let the show speak for itself," he told USA Today.
Groening even went on to say that he agreed with "99 per cent of the things that Hari Kondabolu believes" except the Apu issue, and also questioned if there are better Indian animated characters.
"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?” Groening said.
But Kondabolu is not buying Groening's defence, and insists that no one from The Simpsons has watched his documentary and, hence, keep repeating the same arguments.
Azaria, who has been voicing the character of Apu for years now, has said he is sad that the character of Apu has led to so much grief among the fandom.
"The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad. It was certainly not my intention. I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character, and the idea that it’s brought pain and suffering in any way, that it was used to marginalize people, it’s upsetting. Genuinely," he had said during an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The real problem with Apu remains the creators' indifference to how acutely the character has shaped American minds and has perpetuated ignorance. Considering The Simpsons' massive popularity and the fact that it has been going on for almost three decades, it remains a TV pop culture staple.
But the makers of the show have not brought about a difference, and the character is still voiced by Azaria, who is an American.
"Yes, it is a cartoon. Yes, it's a pop culturally super successful show. But that gives it more responsibility. It's out of date on so many levels.... I was always asked when I was in high school at 14, 15, why I didn't speak like that. Or are my parents doctors (which they are)? Did I find gold in my rivers?" Priyanka Chopra had revealed a few weeks back on The View.