By Tadias Staff
Updated: Friday, December 2, 2011
New York (TADIAS) – It is not everyday that we encounter a positive portrayal of Ethiopian culture in Western comedy and literature. So it was refreshing to see the recent episode of The Simpsons, one of America’s favorite animated-cartoon family sharing a meal at a fictional restaurant in L.A’s Little Ethiopia. The segment, which aired in November, was a hit among Ethiopians who tweeted and posted a portion of the episode in social media circles.
“It was tastefully and respectfully done,” said Woizero Negest Legesse, Director of the Little Ethiopia Cultural and Resource Center in Los Angeles. “Who knew gursha would become so popular?”
“I saw the clips on YouTube and it was great,” said Leelai Demoz, an Ethiopian-American Academy Award-nominated television and film producer. Mr. Demoz said he was impressed by the due diligence that went into creating the neighborhood and cultural scenes. “I thought it was a very well done clip by someone who has obviously spent a lot of time in Little Ethiopia,” he enthused.
“We are so happy because The Simpsons put on the map not only this neighborhood, but also our food and culture in general,” Woizero Negest said. “As a matter of fact we are writing a thank you letter to the them.” She added. “We want to invite them back for a coffee ceremony.”
Chef Marcus Samuelsson blogged: “We love it when we see Ethiopian culture injected into pop culture.” He added, “The episode was accurate in finding traditional Ethiopian music and also highlighting the custom of gursha where Ethiopians lovingly offer food to one another.”
The Simpsons’ adventure starts when their car breaks down in Little Ethiopia, the stretch of Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles between Olympic and Pico Boulevards. The area is lined with Ethiopian businesses and restaurants. Luckily for them, their car malfunctions right across from an eatery. Initially Marge (the mother) is visibly concerned. But she has no choice but to follow her hungry kids (Bart and Lisa) into a restaurant. The reluctant mom was still uncomfortable with the milieu of the Ethiopian restaurant such as its display of CDs for sale. The humor does not stop there. Soon enough her taste buds will be dancing eskista while eating some delicious-looking traditional Ethiopian food served on a large platter. “Holy casserole-y!” says Marge. “That’s good gloop!” Bart agrees with his mother: “I wish I lived in Ethiopia.” But Lisa is the most descriptive. “Exotic, vegetarian, I can mention it in a college essay,” she says. “Mom, this is amazing!”
Mr. Demoz said when done right animated shows are powerful tools for creative and entertaining expression of social messages, but they are also hard work. “With animation you have so much freedom to express oneself, that the taste buds dancing seems like a logical and normal thing to see,” Mr. Demoz said. “I have never worked in that form so I am in awe of their talents. I have spent time with animators on a TV show and I can tell you that what seemed like a short three minute clip, took months and months to execute.”
“Who knew their car would break down right in Little Ethiopia?” said Woizero Negest. “We are delighted it did.”
Photos: LA’s Little Ethiopia Street Festival (2011)
In Pictures: The Street Named Little Ethiopia in L.A. (2008)