The Problem with Apu


In the documentary the Problem with Apu, Hari Kondabolu leaves a lasting impression on his audience through the three final scenes of the documentary: a short Simpsons graphical character recreation, a CGI fight between him and stereotyped characters as well as Hank Azaria, and a small scene from his stand-up comedy show.

The filmmaker’s purpose is to inform American audiences that the representation of South-Asian Americans through The Simpson’s character Apu is harmful and to broaden the conversation of the representation of marginalized groups. His goal is to persuade the audience that Apu represents an outdated and offensive stereotype and that he has the right to be offended by it.  The conclusion of the documentary suggests that he wants Apu absolved from the stereotypical characteristics that the Simpson’s writers have given him or completely out of the show. The documentary seems to be geared towards the public as well as the creators of the Simpsons.

The first part of the conclusion, from 47:59 to 48:28, starts off with Hari talking in front of the recurring yellow dotted screen. Then he transitions into a voiceover and a reconstruction of Grampa Simpson. The choice of this character is purposeful. Grampa Simpson is characterised as old, senile and deeply rooted in his antiquated ways. Grampa symbolizes the people who are not taking the representation seriously and merely see it as a joke, believing that while it is racist, it is okay to do in the interest of comedy.

The message during this portion of the documentary is quite sharp and clean-cut. Hari explains that viewers are “still allowed to love the Simpsons” but that the show is like “your racist grandfather.” He builds his claim mildly explaining that the racist grandfather “has been there your whole life and has taught you so many valuable things.” But then suddenly he exclaims, “So if he can’t change, maybe it’s time he dies.” The computer generated images contrast greatly with the voiceover, but that is what creates the lasting impression on the audience. The visuals are accompanied with vibrant pink, yellow and blue. The casket — a symbol of death and connotes a negative tone — appears with a cartoon ‘poof’ and playful motion lines, and a yellow spotlight shines down on it. The reconstruction and voiceover work very well in tandem with each other, and the audience is left shocked that Hari has chosen to take such a dark opinion on the issue, then they realise that the character Apu must have affected him greatly for such a suggestion.

The shock factor of this scene causes the audience to think deeper about his argument. The provocative language and analogy make people listen to his argument. Thus, the scene becomes an effective way to try and persuade and inform deeply opinionated watchers.

Then, from 48:32 to 48:44, he uses the fight with Hank Azaria to clearly express his reaction to Azaria refusing to talk to him. He is indignant that Azaria “gets to choose how he wants to be portrayed” and that it is “so f****** ironic.” He is so angry that he battles it out in a CGI created fight. The music changes from ‘funky and light’ to ‘boxing ring showdown’ music. He stomps and kicks several characters mentioned previously as a sort of revenge.

When Apu appears, Hari is shocked and stops violently fighting. Apu’s facial features change from a genuine smile to an evil grin. Close ups are used to increase the suspense and tension, and appeals to pathos as the interaction is supposed to be comedic and therefore engage the audience.

The montage ends and Hari punches Apu up into the sky, while red sparks and smoke erupt from Apu. That is essentially the last image of the documentary as after are the credits. This image furthers the pathos on the viewer as they feel a sense of satisfaction and happiness that Hari has confronted the source of his ridicule. Apu also represents the inaccurate representations of minorities in general, and he is serving a punch to all of them with this documentary.

The final few seconds from 48:45 to 48:59 is archival material of a bit from Hari’s standup comedy show. The footage is an additional bonus that makes the audience laugh and uses the humor to keep the audience engaged. The controversial and surprising joke with language like “why are you wearing bed sheets out of the house” or “why don’t you shut up and make me food” becomes imprinted to the viewer’s mind. Due to a strong recency bias that humans have, a powerful ending is even more effective. Also, ending with a rhetorical question “Now, can you imagine what she dealt with out of the house?” causes the audience to think even more about the documentary.

Overall, the conclusion of the documentary uses a number of techniques, including CGI, music, and archival material, that surprise and compel the viewers to think about the documentary’s main purpose long after watching it. The three parts each are surprising in their own right and show exactly how Hari feels about the representation of South-Asian Americans by Apu in The Simpsons.


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