With “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” Fox’s “The Simpsons” appeared to address criticisms that long-running character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon — voiced by white actor Hank Azaria — is an ongoing example of South Asian stereotypes.
Many saw the episode as a direct, if veiled response to “The Problem with Apu,” Queens-born writer/comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary exploring racism through the lens of the cartoon character.
“No Good Read” sees Lisa Simpson discover a favorite childhood book is, on reflection, filled with racial stereotypes. As a solution, Marge Simpson edits the book to be as inoffensive as possible. After Lisa explains a sanitized version means there’s now “no point to the book,” her mother asks what she should do.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Lisa responds, glancing toward a framed photo of Apu.
Many immediately labeled the episode as tone-deaf and misguided, including Kondabolu himself. “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the take-away from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” the writer wrote on Twitter. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”
“The Problem With Apu” — which was directed by Michael Melamedoff — sparked conversation when it debuted last year with its multilayered look at the ways popular media still casually exploits stereotypes and slurs (Azaria has admitted in the past that the voice he uses for Apu is based on Peter Sellers’ highly problematic performance in 1968’s “The Party”). The doc featured interviews with numerous South Asian celebrities, such as Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, and Hasan Minhaj. It can be streamed on iTunes, the @TruTV app and more.
“In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important,” Kondabolu, who now lives in Brooklyn, tweeted. “The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
Kondabolu concluded, tweeting with a “public statement” on the episode. “I just want to say, ‘Congratulations to the Simpsons for being talked about & being seen as relevant again.”