MovieBob Reviews THE PROBLEM WITH APU

first_img Is The Problem With Apu good?It’s pretty good.What is it?A documentary by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu about grappling with his feelings regarding the character of Apu from The Simpsons.Does he like Apu?He does not.Uh-oh. How come?A variety of reasons. Much of the film is about the way Apu – a broad caricature of Indian stereotypes as imagined by mostly-white comedy writers – was the only prominent South Asian character in pop-culture when he was growing up and how being perceived through that lens by others affected him. But he’s also come to regard the character as a dated and overly-unkind caricature of first-generation South Asian immigrants like his own parents, and is additionally uncomfortable with this caricature of his culture being performed by a White comedian (in this case voice-actor Hank Azaria.)Oh.Yeah.People are probably really mad about this, huh?They are, and he knows it. The fact that many people are going to reflexively recoil from even hearing the argument is baked directly into the film, with the director/star acknowledging that he knows he’ll be called a “social justice warrior” or “snowflake.” He’s also arguing that he HAS, in fact, “let this go” for the entire 28 years the series has been on.So is this a documentary that wants to make me hate The Simpsons?Not at all. Kondabulo calls himself a Simpsons fan and (like many comics of his generation) credits the series for introducing him to smart comedy-writing, obscure pop-culture and shaping his creative voice – which is why the realization that his opinion on Apu had gradually changed from “this is funny” to “this is somewhat harmful to my community” is such a sore subject for him. The documentary follows a similar track to Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, depicting Kondabulo as hashing out his own feelings and asking other South Asian voices in the entertainment industry and media to give their own thoughts while he tries to secure an interview with Hank Azaria himself.Does he get to talk to Azaria?That would be a spoiler.Apu has been discussed in this context before, including several actual episodes of The Simpsons. Does he address this?Kondabolu isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but he’s clearly got a strong sense of how New Media works and where the conversation about his film will be most hotly debated. He gets right out in front of the defensive social-media Sea Lion set at the very beginning, explaining that “NO, you’re not a racist if you like Apu.” “NO, he doesn’t hate The Simpsons.” “YES, he understands that The Simpsons makes fun of everyone.” “YES, he knows that Apu is one of the smartest characters on the show.” “YES, he’s aware that the writers have made big efforts over the years to make him more of an actual character and to positively portray Indian-American and South Asian culture.”Does he find any of those arguments persuasive?Not to the degree that it “fixes” Apu for him. One of his interview subjects is actor/comic Utkarsh Ambudkar, who voiced Apu’s nephew in “Much Apu About Nothing,” an episode wherein his character got to “call out” Apu for his stereotypical behavior. And while he was glad to get the opportunity to do so he also says that the final version of the episode itself was ultimately structured for the show to let itself off the hook in the end. Not everyone interviewed feels as strongly about Apu specifically as the Kondabulo does (Kal Penn reveals that he finds Apu so objectionable that he’s never been able to enjoy The Simpsons as a whole). But the general consensus seems to be that it’s a dated caricature that wouldn’t fly as a “new” thing today.Wait – Kal Penn as in Harold & Kumar Kal Penn? Does he explain how he squares being offended by Apu when he played “Taj” in Van Wilder?He does, and it’s an interesting (and sobering) perspective on the matter.Is this worth watching if I don’t particularly care about Apu, The Simpsons or minority representation in media?I mean… you SHOULD… probably care about that last one, regardless…Okay. But if I’m not invested in The Simpsons?I’d still recommend it. It’s an interesting discussion, mainly (plus it’s only an hour long, so briskly-paced as well) and it’s really something to hear a pretty diverse collection of Indian-American/South Asian media personalities tell such similar stories of being called “Apu” as kids. They were teased with “Thank you, come again!” well into adulthood and being asked to do “an Apu accent” in auditions by casting agents. However you feel about the conclusion(s) they reach, it’s hard not to see where they’re coming from in that respect.Is there anything that doesn’t work?Subject matter aside it’s a pretty typical “lets arrange some interviews and editorial segments into a loose narrative” issue-doc, but I wish it had spent even more time getting into how unique this situation is to The Simpsons in particular. It’s undeniable that, whether you think Apu rises to the level of a “racist joke” or not, that kind of ethnic caricature being performed by a White actor probably wouldn’t be acceptable today, but The Simpsons has been on the air for almost three decades. This is longer than the lifespan of most other shows by almost double; so a lot of the “dated” material from the early-90s is still part of its world – and because most shows don’t last this long, there’s not really a “template” for dealing with it. It also tries to eventually tie its theme of “maybe Apu shouldn’t be a thing anymore” in with the more general “The Simpsons should probably end already” meme, and I’m not sure it fits.Where do you fall on this whole thing?I think they probably “got away with” (in a not-consciously-malicious sense) doing “it’s funny because India is SO WEIRD!!!” jokes with Apu longer than they should have because The Simpsons is such a beloved thing. But in hindsight this documentary might not even exist if they’d opted to start “dialing back” Apu’s more stereotypical gags many seasons ago. Now? It might be too late to meaningfully make a difference. MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Stay on targetcenter_img Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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