Hispanic Actress Complains to Netflix About Stereotyped Character in Neil Patrick Harris Series

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Well, she provoked action; just not sure this Netflix reaction was what was in mind.

In this era of streaming outlets expansion, there is a desire for intellectual products the likes of which Hollywood may have never before experienced. Every platform is in need of establishing original programming and growing a library of content to lure in and then keep a subscriber base. More movies are being greenlit and new shows are being accepted than previously seen, so even those of middling interest are finding their way into production.

One such effort is a sitcom starring Neil Patrick Harris, entitled ‘”Uncoupled,” which just began filming in New York and sounds rather conventional, if not outright pedestrian. In it, Harris plays a recently divorced man in New York City, with the first episode taking place as his husband is leaving and he now has to experience the contemporary dating scene. But before the cameras rolled (or whichever term is used for the new generation digital Panaflex cameras) there was a problem.

Actress Ada Maris had some complaints about the supporting part she was up for, an older Hispanic housekeeper. In reading the script, Maris took exception with the portrayal, saying that the small role depicted a woman who was trending close to, or over the line, into caricature. She was not impressed with the script she was given by her agent.

“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,” Maris told Variety.

But rather than sit with producers and discuss revamping the role, or meeting with the writers to discuss fleshing out the character and coming up with a more genuine depiction, Maris decided to pen an open letter to the Network and the entertainment press. In late September, a new script came in with some mild revisions to the character — a bit of a challenge to do more, considering the character of Carmen had only two scenes. Then, as the show began production at the end of last month, more changes were made, with the cast announced on the 25th, just prior to filming.

In a statement to Variety, Netflix apologized to Maris and said the character was no longer part of the series. “We’re sorry that Ms. Maris had a negative experience, and this character will not appear in the series,” a Netflix spokesman said.

Well…that is one way to address the problem. A studio and a production company cannot be accused of an insensitive portrayal of a minority if you do not portray the minority at all. Also, an actress cannot complain about the insensitive role she is forced to play when the job is eliminated outright.

I’m sure Maris had legitimate concerns with the way her culture may have been featured, but there is a question on the methodology used to address the concerns. Could there be no effort made to rework the role — as the script revisions show there was that willingness — or was this public outcry the better option, leading to the outright elimination of the Latina character. Said Maris: 

I would hope they would recognize the harm that it does to everyone. Both to people who are Latino and people who are not. I just want (writers) to think the next time they write a character like that. I’m speaking out for the younger actors coming up so they face even less of that than my generation has.”

It sounds noble, but it seems that the erasing of a Latino character is just as big of a challenge for aspiring performers. They may face less of the stereotypes in roles, but how much will be attributable to facing fewer roles in general? As an established actress in her 60’s, Maris may have the comfort of speaking out. The starving newcomers working multiple jobs between auditions do not have the influence nor options to talk themselves out of a role like this.