'The Simpsons' Response to Racism Accusations Over Apu Falls Flat With Most Viewers

The Simpsons attempted to address the racial controversy surrounding longtime character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on Sunday's episode, but their apparent effort to quell the wave of criticism—stemming from their indignant portrayal of the South Asian character—fell flat with most viewers.

In the Season 29 episode, titled "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," Marge and Lisa Simpson seem to hint at the tension surrounding the stereotypical Apu, who runs Springfield's Kwik-E-Mart and is voiced by Hank Azaria.

During the episode, Marge reads The Princess in the Garden to Lisa—a Simpson's take on Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden—but changes the identity of the book's heroine in effort to modernize the plot, which essentially disrupts the "emotional journey" of the book completely. When Lisa suggests there's "no point" to the book with Marge's changes, her mother frustratingly asks, "Well what am I supposed to do?"

Lisa's responds: "It's hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" Then the camera careens over to a photo of Apu sitting on her nightstand with the inscription, "Don't have a cow."

Viewers took the moment as the show's attempt to respond to Hari Kondabolu's 2017 truTV documentary, The Problem with Apu. The comedian notes how The Simpsons have aided in demoralizing the experience of minority life in the U.S. And their response to the episode was just as critical on Sunday as it was following the documentary's release in November, with many people on social media calling the episode "toothless."

#TheSimpsons completely toothless response to @harikondabolu #TheProblemWithApu about the racist character Apu:

"Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect... What can you do?" pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN

— soham (@sohamberlamps) April 9, 2018

I think the fact that they put this "argument" in the mouth of Lisa's character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response.

— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) April 9, 2018

Even Kondabolu was displeased, taking to Twitter to suggest the episode completely missed the point of his documentary. "In 'The Problem with Apu,' I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress," he wrote Sunday.

Wow. “Politically Incorrect?” That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad. https://t.co/lYFH5LguEJ

— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018

The show that champions irrereverent commentary can't handle the most obvious and needed critique of itself. Fuck this thin skinned response from #TheSimpsons, and way to make a good enough doc to make them respond, @harikondabolu https://t.co/C9Cffklk4I

— Kishori Rajan (@Kishori) April 9, 2018

The history of praise for Apu from white Hollywood elites only proves that The Simpsons was never actually a radical show. It has always helped maintain the status quo.

— Imran Siddiquee (@imransiddiquee) April 9, 2018

P/S - No one watches #TheSimpsons for wholesome politically correct animation but having Lisa Simpson delivering this line is a big fuck you to those who criticized the Apu stereotype. #theproblemwithapu

— Raymond Vagell 🐒🏳️‍🌈 (@PrancingPapio) April 9, 2018

So true. South Asians have been screaming into the void about this particular character for years, but they've never been taken seriously before our current slightly more adequate media representation. It's disappointing that @TheSimpsons are still not taking this seriously. https://t.co/uqtyrWS4nd

— Amanda Ranaweera (@amanda__jasmine) April 9, 2018

Wow, hate to see how The Simpsons handled this situation. Personally, I feel like Apu should stay on the show, but they definitely could have found a better way to address it

— Brandon C. (@BrandonCMaximum) April 9, 2018

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