Rumor has it — and it is just a rumor at this point — that “The Simpsons” may just drop beloved character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon after a prolonged attack on the Indian convenience store owner over the past year.
In an interview with IndieWire, film producer Adi Shankar claimed he’s heard from several people close to the popular cartoon show that the character would be dropped.
“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.”
NBC could not get Shankar to elaborate on his statement and said he wouldn’t give away his sources.
Fox hasn’t released a statement regarding Apu or confirmed the rumor. “Simpsons” Executive Producer Al Jean said in a statement to NBC: "Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode 'My Way or the Highway to Heaven.'"
Apu was the subject of a documentary by comedian Hari Kondabolu, titled “The Problem With Apu.” Released in November 2017, the documentary featured comedian Aparna Nancherla and actor Kal Penn complaining about how Apu represented Indian-Americans.
Since the documentary, a sustained campaign against the character has taken place. Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, said he would “step aside.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if “The Simpsons” simply stopped using the character rather than take steps to satisfy those offended by his depiction. The rumor of Apu’s departure didn’t sit well with Kondabolu, who created the documentary. He took to Twitter to criticize “The Simpsons” over the apparent rumor, tweeting: There are so many ways to make Apu work without getting rid of him. If true, this sucks.”
The cartoon addressed the controversy in an episode where Marge Simpson reads daughter Lisa a book from her own childhood, but realizes it’s offensive by today’s standards.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Lisa says. A photo of Apu then appears on screen.
Kondabolu, for his part, insists that Apu is not offensive, but inaccurate.
“I don’t find Apu offensive, I find him annoying and insulting," he said, according to NBC. “But for me, one: It’s inaccurate. Two: It’s insulting to my parents. And three: When that's the only depiction you have, that’s how the world sees you.”
The danger for “The Simpsons” in removing Apu is what doors it will open. Every character on the cartoon is a caricature; a stereotype. If Apu is offensive, so is Akira, the Japanese waiter; so is Bumblebee Man, the Latino comedian; so is Luigi, the Italian restaurant owner; so are any number of other characters. If one character can be taken down and seen as a victory for social justice, another character can be, and so can another.