An upcoming documentary is set to look at the character of Apu in The Simpsons and investigate how much he is considered a racist stereotype to people of Indian and Asian descent.
The convenience store owner is a much-loved character in the long-running animated series, but the documentary sees comedian and Simpsons' fan Hari Kondabolu look at the problems with how the character is represented on screen. He interviews a range of different personalities, including comedian and actor Aziz Ansari - who dedicated an episode of his critically acclaimed show Master of None to the long list of Indian stereotypes used in American movies and television - as well as Whoopi Goldberg, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Maulik Pancholy, Sakina Jaffrey, and Kal Penn.
Kondabolu told the BBC, "Kids in the playground would always mimic the accent and say 'Thank you, come again!' or 'Hello, Mr Homer!'"
"Sure, growing up in New York City everyone tries to be funny. If you grow up there you learn to make jokes and how to make comebacks, but it’s hard to counter an accent – what’s your comeback for an accent?"
He continued, "The Simpsons is an important work of art that has influenced so many, including myself. Apu was the only Indian we had on TV at all so I was happy for any representation as a kid. And of course he’s funny, but that doesn’t mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous.
"It gets to the insidiousness of racism, though, because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you. It becomes so normal that you don’t even think about it. It seeps into our language to the point we don’t even question it because it seems like it’s just been that way forever."
Kondabolu spoke about the stereotypical character traits Apu has been given over the course of The Simpsons: "He’s defined almost entirely by his job. But he also happens to have eight kids, a joke about India having so many people, and he has an arranged marriage via this weird matchmaking system that’s almost like football draft picks.
"And even though some may defend Apu with ‘Well, he’s a small business owner, and he’s a key part of the community and he’s loved,’ he’s still so limiting, because he’s never grown. I mean, some Simpsons characters have changed – some have died, Flanders became a widow. But the only Indian in town has always been a convenience store owner."
Actor Hank Azaria, who voices the character of Apu on The Simpsons (among many others), features in a clip in the documentary where he says, "Right away, they were like, 'Can you do an Indian voice and how offensive can you make it?'" he said of early auditions for the part. "I was like: 'It’s not tremendously accurate, it's a little stereotyped,’ and they were like: 'Nah, that’s alright!'"
Kondabolu told NBC, "To imagine a white dude doing that voice, that was a torment. It was like bullying from behind the screen."
Azaria has yet to comment on the documentary.
Kondabolu added: "I realise some of you think I’m some annoying, PC, social justice warrior that’s very sensitive and you’re probably thinking 'come on snowflake, let it go'. Well, I have let it go – for 28 years."
'The Problem with Apu' airs this weekend on truTV in America.
Watch the trailer below: