I really, really love The Simpsons. The show's "Golden Years" (let's say the first 10 seasons or so) have had a larger impact on my development as a person than any other piece of pop culture. Child-me looked forward to watching reruns of the show with my dad every weeknight. At first, I mostly connected with the surface-level humor - things like Barney belching and Homer exclaiming "Doh!" - but as I grew up, I gradually picked up on the show's subtler satirical elements and various pop culture references. If you want to hear me drone on about how Homer's Enemy is the best episode of television ever made, please don't hesitate to ask.
I'm embarrassed to say that, not too long ago, I probably would have had a shitty, knee-jerk reaction to anyone saying that they found elements of the show to be problematic, in part because my obsession with the show is a not-so-small part of my identity. "They make fun of everyone, why are you hung up on this one thing?" "You're not supposed to take this seriously, it's just a joke." "You don't really get what they're going for here, there are more layers to this than you realize." And so on. At this point in my life, I've come to terms with being able to simultaneously enjoy things while also recognizing that a particular aspects of them can be flawed, or even just bad.
Hari Kondabolu's documentary The Problem with Apu begins by noting that Kondabolu also liked The Simpsons when he was growing up, with one major exception: Apu. While The Simpsons does "make fun of everyone," with an extended cast of characters that are frequently riffs on various stereotypes, Apu (voiced by Hank Azaria, a white guy) also happened to be one of the only significant South Asian characters featured in mainstream American television for a very long period of time. The Simpsons fleshed out Apu's character over time, but the surface-level thing that he does to make people laugh - his equivalent of Barney's belch - is speak in a racist accent.
As a film, The Problem with Apu feels a little unfocused, with Kondabolu attempting to arrange an interview with Hank Azaria and everything sort of fizzling out after he isn't able to. I was genuinely moved, however, by just how many of the people interviewed in this movie had their own stories of people using Apu's voice to belittle them and Hollywood executives expecting them to essentially to talk in the same way. Kondabolu even includes footage of one of his standup specials being interrupted by a heckler shouting "Thank you, come again." When you are underrepresented in media, a single negative or stereotypical portrayal like this can have outsized consequences.
I'm still going to watch and enjoy The Simpsons, but when Apu appears on the screen, it's definitely not going to be the same.