Apu, the owner and operator of the local Kwik-E-Mart on The Simpsons, first appeared on the show in its first season. That was 28 years ago. With very few exceptions, the characters on The Simpsons are frozen in time. The world around them changes, but the people do not; almost 30 years later, Maggie is still a baby sucking away on the exact same pacifier.
That has become something of a problem for The Simpsons, as chronicled in the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, in which comedian Hari Kondabolu explores the way the generally well-liked character — performed since the beginning by white actor Hank Azaria — has played into and perpetuated negative stereotypes about Indians. Kondabolu’s film garnered a lot of attention and conversation — but has largely been dismissed by the creators of The Simpsons themselves. Series creator Matt Groening claimed that the controversy was mostly imagined, because in 2018 people “pretend they’re offended” by things.
Despite his beliefs, that doesn’t change what Apu is, what he represents, or who voices him. Kondabolu had hoped The Simpsons might evolve the character into something more modern and fitting for 2018 — and even got involved with a contest to create a script for an episode that would do just that — but instead it appears that Apu will simply vanish from The Simpsons with little to no fanfare. Here’s what Kondabolu told Indiewire he’s heard about the character:
I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now: They’re going to drop the Apu character altogether.They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy.
Indiewire also received a response from the show — a picture of Apu in heaven in a recent episode — that seems to imply that the character is dead and gone and nobody quite realized it until now.
That’s a sad end for Apu, but it’s sadder for The Simpsons, which was such an iconic American institution for so long — and a fierce and savage voice for truth as well. There’s basically no precedent for a show like The Simpsons that’s been on the air as long as it has. And I think this whole ongoing saga involving Apu explains why.