The Problem with Apu and the ‘immigrant tax’

There is a new documentary The Problem with Apu by comedian Hari Kondabolu that looks at the role that the iconic character on The Simpsons has played in creating Indian stereotypes.

The Apu character is voiced by Hank Azaria (who is white) and the accent was deliberately made to sound as extreme as possible. One has to ask oneself the obvious question: what would have been the reaction if a white actor had voiced a stereotypical black character to make him a figure of fun? There has been push back on East Asian stereotypes, as you will recall the trouble that Stephen Colbert got into on The Colbert Report when he adopted a stereotypical extreme Chinese accent. But South Asians, at least up until the recent past, have not reacted with public outrage over Apu.

Maybe because it is because of the ‘immigrant tax’ that comedian Hasan Minhaj alludes to in his Netflix stand up special Homecoming King. His father’s generation felt that part of the price for being an immigrant in the US was to swallow one’s pride and accept whatever indignities heaped upon you. Some of that perceived tax was passed on to the American-born children of immigrants, like Minhaj, but increasingly they are fed up and saying they are not going to pay it and demanding to be treated as equals. He mentions it in the trailer for his show.

Here is Kondabolu back in 2012, when Mindy Kaling had just got her own show, discussing the evolving portrayal of Indians in the media.

The Simpsons have had a very long run, so long that some of the original voice actors have died. It is time for the show to retire Apu. If they do, I hope they at least give him a dignified farewell. He has paid the tax many times over.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    It is time for the show to retire Apu

    Wouldn’t it be better for them to evolve him? Reveal he’s been putting on that accent all those years to make them feel comfortable and he’s tired of it and not going to take it any more and actually sounds like he’s from Queens or something? Teachable moment, followed by continued but more equitable representation?

  2. Mano Singham says


    That’s a pretty good idea. You should send it to the show’s writers. I’m serious.

  3. Mark Dowd says

    The peerless Gabriel Iglesias has a bit in his latest special (I’m Sorry For What I Said When I Was Hungry) about voice acting for Nickleodean for some cartoon about cars. The person directing his recording session kept asking for “a little more spice”, even for engine sound effects.


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