Manick Govinda: Apu is an American Hero
Another day, another claim that the entertainment industry is racist. The latest subject of attack is a character from The Simpsons. But who is the character causing offence? It’s not the stereotypically dumb, fat, white, blue-collar worker, Homer Simpson, or the loveable rogue, Bart Simpson. Nor is it the many typecast Irish, Scottish, German and other ethnic characters in this 28-year-old comedy. No, the media has taken offence at the Indian shopkeeper, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
Apu is the subject of a forthcoming documentary made by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu, called The Problem With Apu. Kondabolu, a successful comedian with a Masters degree in human rights, claims that when he was growing up in Queens, New York, kids would call him Apu and put on Indian accents. Kondabolu admits to being a fan of The Simpsons, and expresses a fondness for Apu. ‘If you separate the impact of the character, and you just follow it, he’s a funny character in terms of how he’s one of the smarter characters’, he says. ‘The times when I watch it, within the context of the show, I can generally deal with it – until you hear a joke that you realise is basically a joke a bully would have made.’