Fox Television Group chairman/CEO Dana Walden says she is not sure how The Simpsons is going to deal with its Apu character going forward after a season dominated by controversy over the character.
The network trusts Jim Brooks and team “to handle it in the way that’s best for the show,” Walden told inquiring TV critics at TCA
“We’re not sure yet what they’re going to do, but ultimately we decided that was their decision” she said, speaking for herself and fellow FTG chairman/CEO Gary Newman.
The social media blow-back to the long-running animated series “What can you do” episode did not surprise Walden, she said. “I thought it was good information” for the creators “to receive, she said, adding that she is confident it will help inform “how they will move forward” with the character and storyline.
An April episode made a glancing address to the controversy about what critics call the stereotypes embodied by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian-American owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart convenience store. The controversy became a public conversation with comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, a critique of the character.
The episode included a scene in which Marge Simpson reads a book to daughter Lisa, who notes the book’s “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.”
Not surprisingly, Kondabolu jumped in on Twitter to respond to the scene, launching a national conversation: “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man I really loved this show. This is sad.”
Showrunner Al Jean jumped into discussion with Twitter followers:
“For those who’d ask why Lisa would defend Apu: he’s her friend. He taught her to be vegan. She admires him,” he said in one Twitter conversation.
Asked why hiring another actor besides Hank Azaria (presumably meaning an Indian actor) is “such an issue?,” Jean responded, “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; someone snarked back: “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 quick, loud 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”.
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”.
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