Faculties in Parramatta on why the tales of varied areas like Western Sydney are not seen on mainstream displays, I had been introduced to a screenwriter who had previously worked for one of Australia’s longest-running soaps, home and away.
These perspectives avoidance for fear of offending and a colour-blind disregard for diversity, respectively are emblematic of our faltering progress on the issue of media diversity. Most recently, the issue has been in the spotlight because of reports that the controversial character of Apu is going to be written out of the iconic animated sitcom, The Simpsons.
The Problem With Apu
The fact the Apu issue has made international headlines speaks to not only the broad appeal of The Simpsons, but also the grief this characterisation has generated audiences of South Asian origin over the years.
In his 2017 documentary the issue with Apu, Indian-American comic Hari Kondabolu explored how this prime-time stereotyping has been a source of racial micro aggressions and slurs, even for Simpsons’ fans who appreciate the bent rules of comedy.
The controversy surrounding Apu is not an instance of taking offence at a benign joke. Studies have shown that being exposed to certain comedic devices and traditions within the long term naturalises racial stereotypes and differences for viewers of all backgrounds.
The characterisation of Apu has real implications for the lives of people of color who endure the brunt of bullying dependent on the personality, also for actors of South Asian origin who are only seen as authentic if they seem and act like they run a Kwik E Mart.
Kondabolu’s documentary recognises Apu as a form of “brownface”, in which a white celebrity dons the exaggerated attributes of another racial group. Turning characters into caricatures, this clinic perpetuates demeaning stereotypes and distances the viewer from the figures in question.
A non Indian actor (Hank Azaria) voicing Apu in a thick, exaggerated accent might not have been out of place in 1990. However, a growing awareness of this potentially harmful repercussions of such characterisations means it is no longer . What exactly are the alternatives for maintaining the essence of excellent comedy while portraying non-white communities in a meaningful and ethical manner?
The Need For Tales Created By People Of Color
Since through interviews with founders of “varied” articles, it has become evident that comedy is often a lightning rod for wider conversations about racial stereotyping. For people of colour, it can function as a particular narrative tool to help them produce their very own real stories.
Section of humor’s draw is its capacity to comment on current cultural and societal issues in an often more engaging manner than the traditional news media. In the context of racial representation, humor may be utilized as a hook to engage audiences that might not otherwise watch a show explicitly about race.
Ben Law, the author of SBS’s the family law (a comedy centred around a Chinese-Australian household), addressed in my interview with him.
We want to make a show that is as dramatically hefty as it Is funny, we’re composing it as a humor to invite individuals in. By drawing in people from a range of class and ethnic backgrounds, comedy can explore complex issues of difference with nuance and without reverting to stereotypes.
Besides audience engagement, comedy is a powerful medium for people of colour to tell their own stories on their own terms. The genre allows those previously underrepresented and misrepresented to set their own agendas and produce their own narratives, instead of waiting for mainstream institutions and their decision-makers to alter.
However, we must be wary of letting humor created by people of colour get shunted to the side as a subcategory of the genre. Rob Shehadie, with a very long career in “wog comedy” in Australia, told me these labels may make the stories seem accessible to people who do not identify with particular ethnic backgrounds.
It is not like I don’t like doing cultural comedy. I’m an ethnic and that I do comedy. I try to water it down because people go, oh you’re performing an ethnic comedy, a multicultural comedy’, but actually I’m telling my life or my own adventures and I’m born in Australia, so I’m an Australian doing Australian humor.
By people of color must be viewed as inside the mainstream, in line with a growing and multicultural Australian identity. Comedy is a touchstone for how immigrant nations creatively mediate belonging. So what exactly do we do about Apu? Into Kondabolu’s documentary by simplistically indicating that political correctness is antithetical to great storytelling.
However, if the achievement of tales with diverse casts is anything to go by, good storytelling is also an issue of taking the pulse of this present socio-political circumstance and producing articles to match.
Comedy is frequently most incisive when it reflects the time and put it is located in. In response to The Simpsons episode previously, producer Adi Shanker crowd sourced a solution to the issue of Apu by encouraging scripts that re-imagined the character and challenge stereotypes.
Headed by people of colour, projects that seriously engage with the complex history Of the personality represent a potential way forward. A better way ahead, in Reality, than cutting off discussion by dropping the offensive subject in query altogether. Now is ripe to re write and re voice Apu.