An upcoming Neil Patrick Harris comedy series is already under fire for an offensive character they wrote in and then removed from the show
Neil Patrick Harris’s onscreen Latina housekeeper has been cut out of Netflix’s Uncoupled following accusations of racial stereotyping, Marcus Jones of Entertainment Weekly reveals. The upcoming comedy show hit an unexpected road bump on Thursday when actress Ada Maris, an industry veteran, published an open letter calling for the character of Carmen, a middle-aged Hispanic maid prone to hysterics and speaking in broken English, to be revised immediately. The letter (via Cynthia Littleton of Variety) was addressed to Harris and writers Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman specifically.
“I’m just fed up,” Maris vents. “If I’m not going to say anything now, when am I going to say something? I just want (writers) to think the next time they write a character like that. Sometimes people have to sit with the discomfort. I would hope they would rethink this. I would hope they would recognize the harm that it does to everyone. Both to people who are Latino and people who are not,” she adds. Though neither Neil Patrick Harris nor Star, Richman, and MTV Entertainment Studios have responded to Variety for comment, though Netflix has. The streamer has apologized to Maris for the “negative experience” and has promised to drop Carmen from the show. Uncoupled may have already removed the character ahead of Maris’s open letter, however, as a press release on October 25 previously revealed the series’s five supporting roles, of which Harris’s housemaid wasn’t a part.
Early development on Neil Patrick Harris’s Uncoupled may have picked up on the problematic nature of Carmen’s characterization ahead of the controversy. At the time of the open letter, the actress had only read a script meant for auditioning; she wasn’t yet cast in the role. A later version of the pilot sent to Ada Maris portrayed Carmen as fluent in English and “agitated” over “nearly hysterical.” Unfortunately, the original draft of the script reached Maris before any issues could be corrected. In many ways, the damage had already been done. “You are modern gay men,” she writes. “How would you like to watch or play an outdated, offensively stereotypical gay part?”
Maris, who starred in FX’s Mayans M.C., heard about the role from her agent and was immediately piqued upon hearing Neil Patrick Harris was involved. Finding out the part was of a Latina housekeeper already sent alarm bells ringing, but Maris decided to read the script with an open mind, having played a maid to great acclaim in Garrett M. Brown and Yakov Smirnoff’s 1980s sitcom What A Country.
Carmen appeared twice in the pilot, first in response to a perceived house burglary and second while Neil Patrick Harris’s Michael was attempting to wash dishes. Her lines were a relic from a distant past, yet it didn’t stop Star and Richman from writing them. Painting Carmen as a needlessly overwrought, borderline neurotic housemaid with lines like “Mister! I just get here and they stole! They stole! They rob you! I don’t know how they get in.” and “No, I do that. You don’t clean good, you always leave a ring.” only perpetuates decades of demeaning racial representation. Even worse, the character is also depicted as unaware of social cues.
Of the role, Maris tells Variety: “When I opened it and saw that it wasn’t even funny – it was hurtful and derogatory — I was shocked because I walked in expecting something very different given the way things are nowadays and the progress we’ve made.” It’s definitely a callback to the less progressive movies of Bruce Lee’s era, where every person of color is relegated to all sorts of menial work and treated as uncivilized natives from a less advanced society. It’s a tired trope of POCs and one the 2020s certainly doesn’t need. How something this dated slipped past Neil Patrick Harris’s radar, we’ll never know.
Ada Maris responded to the cut with a new statement, bemoaning the writers’ inability to revise a problematic character over simply doing away with it. “While it is gratifying to learn that the original character has been cut from the show, wouldn’t it be even more so to see a wonderful new Latino character take its place?” she says. “I’m speaking out for the younger actors coming up so they face even less of that than my generation has. Young people are impressionable. These media images shape our ideas of ourselves. That’s why it’s really important that the portrayals be more realistic, not hurtful. We need to see ourselves more like we really are,” she adds.
Uncoupled is about a gay man in his forties (Michael, played by Neil Patrick Harris who also executive produces) forced to relearn the New York dating scene after a devastating breakup from his husband of 17 years, Colin, turns his life upside down. Carmen, Michael’s Latina house help, used to be a character in the series. Netflix’s Uncoupled is currently in pre-production.