hari kondabolu | the problem with apu

April 12, 2018

words by: Bere Wangge


An old saying advises us not to get mad, but to get even. Hari Kondabolu doesn’t care about that. He got mad, and then he made a movie.

The 35-year-old comedian grew up just like so many of us, watching The Simpsons. As a South Asian-American, he was especially excited to see his culture represented in one of the show’s most famous characters, the convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

But then Apu started talking, and the excitement died down. In fact, the whole thing angered him. He explains why in a new, one-hour documentary called The Problem with Apu.

Simply put, Apu is based on outdated, annoying and harmful South Asian stereotypes. The way Apu is characterized has subjected him to racist comments. And for nearly 30 years now, Apu has been voiced by Hank Azaria, who's white.

In his documentary, Kondabolu sits down with other South Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry: Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minjaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Aparna Nancherla, Russell Peters, Sakina Jaffrey and Maulik Pancholy. They discuss their experiences with Apu. He also talks to Whoopi Goldberg and The Simpsons showrunner Dana Gould; the latter makes a pretty perfect controversial remark in the trailer for the film.

The documentary also features Kondabolu's attempts to meet and confront Azaria in person (Spoiler alert: He fails).

The film made its debut on November 14 at the DOC NYC film festival in New York and aired on truTV five days afterward. In an interview, Kondabolu expressed his wish to screen the documentary in other parts of the world, especially India. While waiting for The Problem with Apu to reach an even wider audience, watch Kondabolu talk about the Apu problem on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. Filmed in 2012, this segment quickly went viral and inspired Kondabolu to create the documentary.



Header image c/o truTV.
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