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‘Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening talks Apu controversy: “I would hate for him to go away”

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In a new interview with The New York Times, Simpsons creator Matt Groening talks more about the controversy surrounding Apu, the sterotypically Indian owner of Kwik-E-Mart that has long been voiced by white actor Hank Azaria. “My guess is I agree, politically, with 99 percent of the things that Hari Kondabolu believes. We just disagree on Apu,” Groening said of Kondabolu, whose documentary The Problem with Apu brought the issue into the spotlight. “I love the character and I would hate for him to go away. I am sorry that The Simpsons would be criticized for having an Indian character that, because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it.” Groening adds, “Maybe he’s a problem, but who’s better? Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years? I’ve been to India twice and talked about The Simpsons in front of audiences. That’s why this took me by surprise. I know Indians are not the same as Indian-Americans.”

The Simpsons addressed the controversy in an April episode that many found to be a rather flip response. Hank Azaria said he’d be willing to step aside and let someone else voice it, but Groening tells The Times he’s not sure what’s going to happen:

How will you handle the character going forward?

We’re not sure exactly how it’s going to play out. Back in the day, I named the character after the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray. I love Indian culture and Indian film and Indian music. I thought that the name was a signal that we had, at least, a scholarly intention. I thought maybe a kid was going to grow up and find out what the name came from and go watch the Apu Trilogy, which are the greatest films, basically, in the history of cinema.

Does that mean a moratorium on further appearances by Apu for the time being?

If we come up with a good story we’ll do it, but some of the stuff the show got taken to task for, we covered in an episode a couple of years ago [in 2016’s “Much Apu About Something”]. Oh well.

You can read the full interview here, and The Times notes that this conversation is part of a larger feature, primarily about Groening’s new adult animated fantasy series, Disenchantment, for Netflix (which debuts August 17), which will run at a later date.

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