The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has suggested Apu could be significantly changed, in light of the debate over whether the character purports racial stereotypes of South Asians.
In a new interview with The Daily Beast, Jean admitted that the character was "a work in progress", adding that he was "very sorry" that the character has been used to bully or discriminate against South Asians.
Apu, voiced by white actor Hank Azaria, has appeared regularly on the show ever since debuting in the 1990 episode "The Telltale Head". Last year, the documentary The Problem with Apu saw comedian Hari Kondabolu talk to various celebrities – including Aziz Ansari, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kal Penn – about the problematic nature of the fictional Kwik-E-Mart owner.
"As a writer, I always wanted to make Apu an original character—more noble, more hardworking, and more intelligent than the average Simpsons character," Jean said. "When we were doing episode four, there was a big joke that Reverend Lovejoy didn’t even know what religion he was, and Apu was just being this wonderful volunteer fireman, and there was an article in the Guardian recently by a South Asian writer who said that moment made him feel really proud.
He added: "So I think there are a lot of things about Apu that have made South Asians very proud, and it’s a very complicated issue. But no one should be bullied because of him, and I’m very sorry about that."
Jean also spoke about his decision to pull from circulation the episode "Stark Raving Dad", which featured a voice cameo from Michael Jackson. He believes the decision to remove the episode is “appropriate”, and that he now believes the episode itself served a “false purpose”.
“I think it was part of what he used to groom boys,” Jean said of Jackson. “I really don’t know, and I should be very careful because this is not something I know personally, but as far as what I think, that’s what I think. And that makes me very, very sad.”
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