The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean said today he’ll continue “to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right” after a couple days of engaging with Twitter followers on both sides of the recent controversy over the show’s longstanding Apu character and the episode that made a brief reference to it.
“I truly appreciate all responses pro and con,” tweeted Jean today. “Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right”. (See it and other tweets below).
The pros and cons, of course, are over last Sunday’s episode that made a glancing address to the controversy about what some see as the stereotypes embodied by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian-American owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart convenience store. The controversy began with comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, a critique of the character.
Sunday’s episode included a scene in which Marge Simpson reads a book to daughter Lisa, with Lisa commenting about a book Marge is reading, noting that the “cisgender girl” heroine is “already evolved” and “doesn’t really have an emotional journey to complete.”
When Marge asks, “Well, what am I supposed to do?,” Lisa responds, “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” At that point, Lisa looked at a framed photograph of the Hank Azaria-voiced Apu inscribed, “Don’t have a cow,” the old Bart Simpson catchphrase given new and literal meaning coming from Apu.
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge tells Lisa, who responds, “If at all.”
Kondabolu tweeted, among other observations about the scene, “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man I really loved this show. This is sad.”
Since then, Jean has been discussing the situation with his Twitter followers.
In one exchange, Jean tweeted, “For those who’d ask why Lisa would defend Apu: he’s her friend. He taught her to be vegan. She admires him.”
Asked by a commenter why hiring another actor besides Azaria (presumably meaning an Indian actor) is “such an issue?,” Jean said, “It’s not. We tried bringing in Utkarsh Ambudkar as Apu’s nephew. It was deemed unsatisfactory — there’s no solution I fear that will satisfy.”
That answer certainly did not satisfy everyone, as a commenter quickly asked, “you took one swing and that’s the end?”, to which Jean responded, “we’ve been trying to make Apu nuanced, sympathetic and (more than our other characters) admirable for 30 years.”
Retweeting a pro-Apu article from the National Review, Jean drew a quick commenter response: “99% of the press you got was bad. But you shared the one that agreed with you. That’s like fox news showing one black guy waving a confederate flag. You shared an article from the national review…obviously they are the forefront of racial equality and representation. Resign”.
Responded Jean, bringing up the Kondabolu documentary: “The Problem With Apu got a 4.6 on imdb. Does that mean it’s worthless? No I think there were valid points made.” (The Kondabolu film is a truTV documentary, and will be aired in an encore presentation this Sunday at 7 pm ET/PT).
Yet another commenter asked Jean, “Do you know how easy it is to put this to bed? Really. Just saying, ‘Hey, we understand that this was hurtful now. It’s not what we wanted, but that’s what it is. We apologize, and are going to learn to create something less hurtful to many of our fans.’ This is the wrong battle”.
Jean didn’t address that one specifically, but when another commenter on the thread suggested, “Follow that up with hiring more poc [people of color] in the writers room,” Jean offered a one-word answer: “agree”.