Back in 2012, Hari Kondabolu did a segment on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. about the then-new Mindy Kaling series, The Mindy Project, the first U.S. sitcom to be created by and starring an Indian American. The son of Indian immigrants, Hari talked about how, growing up, the only Indian in popular culture was Apu on The Simpsons, a character voiced by Hank Azaria — “A white guy. A white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”
While Apu is not the first character in pop culture to trade on this South Asian stereotype (Peter Sellers in The Party, Fisher Stevens in the Short Circuit films, to name two), Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is by far the best known. Kondabolu, who is also a Simpsons fan, decided to explore the subject further with director Michael Melamedoff and now we have this documentary which will premiere on TruTV on Sunday, November 19 at 10 PM. Here’s the official synopsis:
Hari Kondabolu has had a nemesis for nearly his entire life, someone who has plagued the stand-up comedian since he was a child, subjecting him to ridicule and racist comments: Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, better known as the Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart on The Simpsons. For Hari, Apu represents an outdated and offensive South Asian stereotype, made worse by being voiced by a white man, Hank Azaria. Hari sets out on a comedic quest to confront Azaria and make sense of the long-lasting cultural impact of his troublesome character.
The Problem With Apu features interviews with Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, onetime Simpsons writer Dana Gould, and more (but not Azaria who declined to be interviewed for the film). You can watch the trailer, that original Totally Biased segment, and a few other clips from the film, below.
The film makes its World Premiere at this week’s DOC NYC festival, screening Tuesday, November 14 at IFC Center at 7:30 PM. There will be a post-screening Q&A with Kondabolu and Melamedoff, as well as Whoopi Goldberg, actor Utkarsh Ambudkar (who portrayed Apu’s nephew on a 2016 Simpsons episode) and comedian Aparna Nancherla. Advance tickets are sold out but rush tickets will be released before the show (you can line up at 6:30 PM).