Apu Nahasapeemapetilonis one of the most iconic Simpsons characters, having made his debut in episode eight of the show all the way back in 1990. The character is a shopkeeper with a large family of eight children, and can be frequently heard uttering his 'catchphrase' "thank you, come again." Campaigners have been vocal in their opposition to the character, who has been described as an 'Indian stereotype' with an 'immigrant job' and who has been voiced by a white man for the show's nearly 30 year run.
A documentary called 'The Problem With Apu' drew significant attention and led the campaign hitting the headlines, with heavy debate from both sides. Some people see the character as a harmful stereotype, and reference being picked on in school because of the portrayal, but others have pointed out that all of the Simpsons characters are stereotypes of different types of people because that's where the humour comes from.
Apu is voiced by Hank Azaria, a white actor who admits he did not know any South Asians when he came up with the character's accent. He also voices Chief Wiggam and Moe in the show, as well as a doing the majority of the voice work for secondary gay characters but there have been no campaigns to date about that. Azaria describes his accent as Api as "not tremendously accurate" and in Hari Kondabolu's documentary he talks about the ways Fox have managed to get away with such a controversial character for so long. Kondabolu believes that by making Apu a nice person, the network have managed to sidestep the most obvious types of criticism, saying “Of course he’s funny, but that doesn’t mean this representation is accurate or right or righteous. It gets to the insidiousness of racism, though, because you don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of you. It becomes so normal that you don’t even think about it.”
Azaria was a guest on Stephen Colbert's late night TV show yesterday, where Colbert grilled him on the show and his character and he admitted he'd been doing some thinking about the message it might be sending. Throwing the future of the character into doubt, he said "I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened. I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room…including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me." The creators of the Simpsons have not commented on the story so far.