Indian-Americans and TVLatest News and Opinion
Posted Monday 4/16/18 at 11:31PM EDT
The Simpsons' Apu controversy is what happens when a show is stuck in an eternal 1990
"The show seems to take pride in the way it hasn’t changed since 1989, even as change is a fact of life," Todd VanDerWerff says of "the horrible way" showrunner Al Jean has reacted to the controversy over Apu. "And for a show that likes to satirize everything, its inability to talk about aging, about shifting political opinions, about how different America has become, ends up miring it in a past it could so easily escape." With the Roseanne revival in mind, VanDerWerff wonders what would've happened if Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and Maggie had grown up? What if they were 29 years older? "I keep thinking about a Simpsons where everything had changed, and just by its very nature, such a show would have had to deal with Apu slightly better (though (Hank) Azaria would probably still be playing him)," he says. "When things can change within your fictional universe, it’s only natural for the characters to grow and change with them. "
Posted Saturday 4/14/18 at 12:07AM EDT
A journalist of South Asian descent says "most of us happily embraced Apu" in the 1990s, but The Simpsons can fix its most controversial character
"For those of us with low expectations, starving for any representation, Apu was a breath of fresh air," says Wajahat Ali, the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants who grew up near Silicon Valley. While other portrayals showed brown people as cab drivers or terrorists, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon "was an integral character in the Simpsons universe who was able to be a co-protagonist of several episodes," he says. "Only in a cartoon, we thought, could people who look like us achieve such a feat." But that doesn't mean Apu or The Simpsons "get a lifetime pass to perpetuate lazy stereotypes," he says. "Any piece of art, no matter how well intentioned, harmless or silly, is not above reproach or critical examination... Instead of engaging with the issue of representation, which would have made for a more satirical and topical show — you know, the type The Simpsons used to do years ago — the writers responded with the worst creative sin: laziness." What The Simpsons shouldn't have done, he says, is "hijack your show’s most intellectual and empathetic voice, Lisa, as a foil for the writers’ unwillingness to be self-critical and engage their blind spots when it comes to listening to people of color who feel silenced and misunderstood. Thus, the show engages in another major sin: omission. After Lisa’s finger-wagging, the camera pans to a photo of Apu with the inscription 'Don’t have a cow!' Apu, who is a supporting character, is robbed of lines, rendered mute and frozen in a suffocating frame, smiling as a token prop. That’s exactly how so many people of color feel in real life — all the time." Ali adds: "What The Simpsons should have done was a stand-alone episode centered on Apu, who, after becoming a citizen many years ago, is confronted with an immigrant travel ban...Nobody would have a cow. But we would have an intelligent, critical, satirical show that at least confronts problematic issues instead of running away from them."
- Showrunner Al Jean explained why Lisa Simpson defended Apu, but why did she look at the camera?
- Jean criticized for tweeting conservative media in The Simpsons' defense
- Jean tweeted a link to the National Review piece: "Why the Apu Simpsons Controversy Bothers Me as an Indian American"
- Harry Shearer stuck up for the show, tweeting to Hari Kondabolu: "Bart, a pre-pubescent boy, is played by an adult woman. What's up with that?"
- BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg slammed The Simpsons response: "Imagine choosing to describe yourself and your work as 'applauded and inoffensive'"
- Bill Maher defends The Simpsons' response to Apu: "If you spend your time combing through old TV shows to identify stuff that by today’s standards looks bad, you’re not ‘woke,’ you’re just a douchebag"
Posted Friday 4/13/18 at 1:17PM EDT
The Simpsons boss: "I truly appreciate all responses pro and con" to our response to the Apu controversy
Showrunner Al Jean tweeted this morning that the show "will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right."
Posted Wednesday 4/11/18 at 5:23PM EDT
The Problem with Apu will be re-aired on TruTV following The Simpsons' "response" to the documentary
Hari Kondabolu's one-hour documentary on the controversial Simpsons character originally aired last November and is available to stream on TruTV's website. But following this week's uproar over The Simpsons' response, TruTV has announced plans to re-air the documentary this Sunday at 7 p.m.
Posted Wednesday 4/11/18 at 1:11PM EDT
The Simpsons predicted its "bad response" to the Apu controversy in a 1994 episode
Animator Hamish Steele points out that this week's Lisa Simpson was unlike the Lisa Simpson of 1994. As Ramon Ramirez notes, "Twitter users have pointed out that the Apu controversy is basically that time Lisa wanted a less-patronizing Malibu Stacy doll for young girls. In 1994’s 'Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,' Lisa fights for institutional change by pointing out that the popular, Barbie-esque Malibu Stacy doll is stuck in 1950s gender roles that emphasize homemaking. In the end, the toy manufacturers she protests respond by releasing a new Malibu Stacy: It’s the same doll, but this time she comes with a new hat."
- "The tragedy of The Simpsons is not just that bad episodes now far outnumber the good ones," says Village Voice film critic Alan Scherstuhl. "It's that when called out by a brash smart younger generation, the Simpsons writers exposed themselves as just as fuddy-duddy clueless as George HW Bush did when he called out The Simpsons."
- "Hands off Apu Nahasapeemapetilon": "Indeed, Apu is now problematic," says Kyle Smith. "Apu has been appearing on the show for 28 years, but only in the last ten seconds did he become offensive. There may be a bit of opportunism at work here. It’s easier to cry racism than it is to get laughs."
Posted Tuesday 4/10/18 at 7:15PM EDT
Indian-American Simpsons fan relates his story about his Apu-like father
Addressing The Problem with Apu director Hari Kondabolu, Amar Shah wondered if he had talked to actual Indian-American convenience store owners. To which Kondabolu responded that he did, and that that footage was left on the cutting room floor. Shah went on to relate his father's story, saying: "I agree with some of your points @harikondabolu, but this is much more than some stereotype. For some of us, we lived this life. It was our story. It's my story."
Posted Monday 4/09/18 at 6:11PM EDT
The Simpsons' response to Apu is what happens when a show loses its identity after being on for "a long damn time"
The Simpsons was once the rebellious outsider, says Jen Chaney. Now, it's the Establishment, incapable of grappling with Apu. "When it first dominated the pop-culture landscape in the early 1990s," says Cheney, "a lot of the show’s appeal stemmed from its skillful and fearless tendency to jam its thumb in the eye of the American Establishment, by highlighting white male laziness via Homer, the crass privileged class via Mr. Burns, and a whole host of other marks of ignorance — from sexism to intolerance of vegetarians — via the crusading Lisa Simpson, the show’s perpetual 8-year-old voice of reason. For all of the stereotypes he has embodied, even some of the jokes generated by Apu actually pointed a finger at the abhorrent attitudes that Indian-Americans have to tolerate from their Caucasian counterparts." Chaney adds: "One could argue that The Simpsons is now the Establishment, and has been for a while. Once you become the Establishment, there is a tendency become lazy and complacent, while also feeling fiercely defensive of one’s legacy. In my view, that combination of factors plays a key role in the show’s inability to fully own up to the Apu problem."
- The Simpsons was "utterly dishonest" with its response since Apu isn't a central character: "His existence at the periphery — his very flatness, and his definition as a bag of signifiers meant to scream 'INDIAN!' is integral to what it means to write a racist stereotype," says Linda Holmes. "It's galling that writers will force a character to exist as funny scenery and then complain that they cannot change him without upsetting the emotional arc of the series."
- The Simpsons didn't have to address the controversy -- Apu has become "a genuine, multidimensional character" -- but last night's episode amounted to a "glib 'f*ck off"
- The Simpsons made Lisa Simpson sound like a "wealthy middle-aged white male writer"
- Molly Ringwald demonstrated how to address problematic past depictions with her recent New Yorker essay on her John Hughes films
Posted Friday 3/30/18 at 9:30PM EDT
Actors of South Asian descent are all the rage this pilot season
New Girl's Hannah Simone starring as The Greatest American Hero on ABC and CBS' Pandas in New York, which revolves around an Indian-American family, are just two of examples of how actors of South Asian descent are landing key roles this pilot season. "Typically, South Asian-American TV characters tend to be terrorists, funny foreigners, or quirky best friends," says Sulagna Misra. "But while several South Asian-American actors have been cast to play sidekicks on this year’s crop of pilots—and even more of them are playing doctors, another stereotype—other roles are breaking the mold."
Posted Thursday 3/01/18 at 1:32PM EST
Hasan Minhaj is leaving The Daily Show for his own weekly Netflix comedy show
Minhaj will become the first Indian-American to host a weekly comedy show as a result of Netflix's 32-episode order. Minhaj is in the midst of a breakout year, including hosting a Trump-less White House Correspondents' Diner in 2017 as well as his own Netflix comedy special, Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King. The Daily Show recently lost correspondent Michelle Wolf to another weekly Netflix comedy show.
Posted Thursday 1/25/18 at 9:04PM EST
Female Indian-American reboot of The Greatest American Hero gets an ABC pilot pickup
The new Greatest American Hero follows a 30-year-old Indian-American woman from Cleveland who takes on the William Katt role. The revival is from the Fresh Off the Boat team, with writer-producer Rachna Fruchbom penning the pilot.
Posted Saturday 11/18/17 at 12:32AM EST
In The Problem With Apu, it’s unclear whether The Simpsons’ “most embarrassing" character should be rehabilitated, recast or eliminated
Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 50-minute documentary, airing Sunday on truTV, scrutinizes the Apu character and the way it has come to represent stereotypes of Indian-Americans. Yet the documentary is thrown off course a bit by his obsessive pursuit of Hank Azaria, the voice of Apu, who sends an encouraging letter but declines to speak on behalf of the show. ALSO: It sometimes feels like an in-depth Daily Show field piece.