Following a nearly year-long controversy — though one that has really lasted for as long as the character has existed — producers of The Simpsons have confirmed that Apu, longtime Quik-E-Mart owner and Indian stereotype, is being written off of the show.
The news was delivered to Indiewire by producer Adi Shankar, who said he’d been trying to crowdsource a script that “in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a creation that was the byproduct of a predominately Harvard-educated white male writers’ room and transforms it into a fresh, funny and realistic portrayal of Indians in America.”
But those plans have been binned. Instead, he’s heard from multiple sources that the character will simply be dropped. “They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy,” Shakar revealed.
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the Season 1 episode “The Telltale Head,” in which Bart becomes the scourge of Springfield after decapitating the head of the statue of town founder Jebediah Springfield. (His name is a reference to the hero of the classic “Apu trilogy” — three of the best known films by legendary Bengali director Satyajit Ray, which you can watch on the soon-to-be-shuttered streaming service FilmStruck.) A native of Rahmatpur, West Bengal, Apu acquired a Ph.D. in computer science but, while paying off his student loans, has spent 30 seasons working at the local Quik-E-Mart.
Voiced by Hank Azaria, Apu has always been lovable but problematic Indian stereotype. Anger over the character came to a head with last year’s documentary, The Problem with Apu, in which comedian Hari Kondabolu called him out, saying, among other things, that the character has unfairly informed white Americans’ perceptions of those of Indian descent. (Adding fuel to the fire, South Park recently lampooned the show, taking issue with Apu as well.)
Attempts by Simpsons staffers, and by the show itself, to deal with the controversy have varied widely. Azaria has been sympathetic to the criticisms. So has producer Al Jean. Creator Matt Groening, however, has been defensive and has suggested the fury would eventually pass. One episode featured Lisa Simpson addressing the issue with a shrug, saying, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
But attempts to wait it out have led to getting rid of Apu entirely. There’s currently no word on how or when he’ll leave the show, or how.