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By Natasha Guimond · May 1, 2018
Our platform Coverfly has been mentioned in the news lately with this screenwriting contest which is receiving quite a bit of attention – from the likes of Kanye West, CNN, New York Times and now, right here on The Script Lab. The screenwriting contest is searching for a more fair interpretation of The Simpson‘s beloved Indian-American character Apu.
Diving a little deeper, even though this has been a 30+ year issue, it seems that the Documentary The Problem with Apu by comedian Hari Kondabolu, released in November 2017, re-introduced the topic of conversation, featuring such talents as Whoopi Goldberg and Aziz Ansari. Kondabolu confronts his cartoon nemesis, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian convenience store owner from The Simpsons and the larger issue of how Western culture depicts Southeast-Asian communities.
TruTV re-aired the documentary after the writers at The Simpsons responded to the controversy:
"Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect… What can you do?" pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN
— Soham (@soham_burger) April 9, 2018
To which Hari Kondabolu responded:
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.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
In the few short weeks since that episode aired and The Problem with Apu re-aired, there has been a flurry of responses. Showrunner and Executive Producer Al Jean responded to the feedback surrounding The Simpsons‘ response:
.@TheSimpsons I truly appreciate all responses pro and con. Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right
— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 13, 2018
Enter Adi Shankar. He’s best known for being the producer behind cult-hit films like Dredd and LoneSurvivor and geeks are always on the edge of their seat for the next “Bootleg Universe” short. He’s also the producer on Netflix’s new Castlevania series. Shankar is Indian-American. He saw The Simpsons and Apu while growing up in the ’90s and has some thoughts to add to this important moment of cultural debate. After seeing Al Jean’s tweet and hearing Bill Maher weighing in with, “If you spend your time combing through old TV shows to identify stuff that by today’s standards looks bad, you’re not ‘woke’, you’re just a douchebag,” he felt compelled to respond, writing an open letter to both parties:
Dear Mr. Maher and Mr. Jean,
Apu wasn’t “applauded” or “inoffensive” at any time. We are the most educated minority in America yet that fact was completely extricated from ’80s and ’90s pop culture and all that existed was a hurtful caricature, a cousin to the coon and Jewface caricatures, that reinforced our fears of how we were perceived by gatekeepers such as yourselves. By dismissing this issue as a joke, a fad amongst entitled millennials worthy of a light chuckle, neither of you are acknowledging that this creation has and was used to hurt countless kids who were already struggling to fit in.
We have a fabulous platform and with it the ability to affect change on an unprecedented level, and as such you both have the responsibility to do better.
In the wake of Adi’s letter, many people have responded; even Hank Azaria said he would be “perfectly willing and happy to step aside” as the voice of the character.
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) April 25, 2018
Not too long after, The Simpsons‘ creator Matt Groening answered USA Today’s question, “Do you have any thoughts on the criticism of Apu as a stereotype?” with “Not really. I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.”
Since then, the NY Times has also pointed out the controversy saying, “Though The Simpsons has on occasion portrayed Apu and his family with nuance and pathos, the character also encourages the infantilizing of Indian immigrants as simple-minded people who talk in a singsong voice. Even Apu’s last name — Nahasapeemapetilon — is presented in a way that invites mockery.”
Offering a solution, Adi Shankar has launched the Apu Screenwriting Contest: Crowdsourcing the Cure, featured exclusively on Coverfly. It’s completely free to enter, opening it up to all humans. The final deadline is June 30th.
Adi Shankar told IndieWire, “I was angry, very angry, I’m now approaching this from a place of love. I want to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone, so we can just stop and go back to being on the same side. This doesn’t need to be a thing. We just need to stop debating how severe the problem is and just address the problem. Set a good example for future creators and then move on.”
His positive approach is catching on, even inspiring Kanye West to tweet out his love for Adi Shankar, first with a video of Shankar expressing why this contest is so important, following up with a link to the contest:
Adi Shankar We got love pic.twitter.com/dyJyLRF79e
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 30, 2018
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 30, 2018