‘The Problem with Apu’ Has A Few Problems Itself

Comedian Hari Kondabolu has had a problem with The Simpsons character Apu. So much so that he decided to make a documentary about it. The documentary is called The Problem with Apu and airs nationwide on truTV Sunday, November 19 at 10PM ET/PT and will be available on all VOD but there are somethings that you might want to know before going into it.

There’s a lot of opinion and some facts.

So obviously going into this, Kondabolu makes it clear that he has problems with Apu. I mean it’s pretty much the title. So you should be aware that there will be both opinions and facts in this doc. The facts are based off of what Kondabolu had to go through in his life as well as what some other actors, actresses, doctors etc. had to face when dealing with racism that they believe have to do with the Apu being a stereotype. Another fact that is brought up is minority media representation. Because of the lack of minority representation in the media some cultures are often stereotyped. This is something that has been happening for years and this doc spends some time discussing it. Now that is where the facts kind of stop. The rest of the documentary is about why Kondabolu and others think that the character Apu may need to be written off of the show somehow or portrayed differently, among other issues.

Don’t expect it to be all about Apu.

So yes the documentary is called “The Problem with Apu” but there’s more to it than that. Kondabolu certainly lets his voice be heard about why he has issues with Apu. His issues are with the stereotype and the lack of minority representation…at first. Through these issues are talked about throughout the 49 minute documentary, there’s a point where it feels like there’s much deeper issues with Kondabolu that he may have and throwing it all into this one character. It also starts to look like Kondabolu may have a problem with voice actor Hank Azaria who voices Apu and dozens of other characters on The Simpsons.Though he claims that that’s not the case. It does make sense for Kondabolu to want Azaria in the documentary to see what he has to say about why he chose to portray Apu the way that he ultimately did.

Kondabolu answers questions that you may be wondering as you are watching. 

A few times in the documentary Kondabolu starts pointing out things that the viewer may be wondering. Things like “Does he have an issue with Azaria?” “Does he not know that ‘The Simpsons’ are based off of all kinds of stereotypes?” “Are there deeper issues going on with Kondabolu?” These are all recognized and answered to some degree. It’s funny because his interviewees even point some of these out.

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 11: Comedian Hari Kondabolu explores the Indian experience in the media with his documentary “The Problem With Apu” in New York, New York on July, 11, 2016. (photo by David Scott Holloway / ™ & © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved..)

The interviews are good.

The Problem with Apu includes interviews with Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar), Aasif Mandvi (The Last Airbender), Hasan Minjaj (The Daily Show), Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect), Aparna Nancherla (Late Night with Seth Meyers), Russell Peters (Source Code), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards) r Whoopi Goldberg, W. Kamau Bell and even a writer from The Simpsons Dana Gould. During the interviews the interviewees give their opinions on the character, the show itself and how it affected them. Some of the interviews are funny and entertaining. My favorite of the interviews is the one with Dana Gould which almost feels like more of a debate and it’s pretty interesting to hear both sides of it.

There’s no solution. 

When all is said and done, it felt like there was no solution to the “problem.” The discussion of what to do with the character and what Kondabolu would suggest to Azaria about the solution to making Apu not a stereotypical depiction of an Indian is simply: don’t do it anymore. That’s according to Kondabolu. They were brainstorming solutions with Kondablou but none seemed to appeal to him. Going deeper into it, one of Kondabolu’s issues with Apu was the fact that it’s a white guy doing a stereotypical impression for an Indian. Now I get how that can be an issue but what I do not get is that at the end of the documentary, it cuts to some standup from Kondabolu and in that standup he is making his own jokes about his Indian heritage. My issue with that would be if you want change done, you have to start making the change yourself. It certainly doesn’t help the issue if you are making fun of it as well while asking for other people to stop making fun of it. So it really felt like the documentary was almost pointless. He even asks the question himself. Yes, he did open the discussion on a national scale but what kind of outcome was he really wanting out of it?

And really, are The Simpsons even relevant anymore? Yes, they are still one of the longest running television shows and they are still iconic characters in pop culture but when was the last time you had a conversation that started with “Hey, did you watch ‘The Simpsons’ yesterday?” Chances are you probably haven’t had that conversation in a number of years. The Problem with Apu is entertaining and interesting but the fact that there’s no solution really feels like it’s all for not.



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