Does AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE Have a Diversity Problem?


Fans of the family-friendly sitcom noticed that one of Katie's best friends, Angela (Carly Hughes), was a no-show on the second episode of this new season.  In fact, Hughes' name was missing from the show credits. Then the word came out on November 9th that Hughes had exited the show, citing a "toxic environment."

I was no longer able to work in the toxic environment that was created on American Housewife,” Hughes said in a statement to Deadline. “I made the decision to leave to protect myself from that type of discrimination. As a black woman in entertainment, I feel the responsibility to stand up for what I deserve, what we all deserve — to be treated equally. I wish the show well, and I am excited for a new chapter and to be able to pursue the opportunities ahead.”

Hughes' complaints, along with others from production, triggered an ABC investigation. The end result was that AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE creator Sarah Dunn is no longer an active producer on the show, Mark J. Greenberg stepped down as line producer, and showrunners Rick Wiener and Kenny Schwartz underwent sensitivity training.

Social media immediately began speculating. It's always interesting to read the comments on articles as well. Hughes' exit follows the recent exit of fan fave, Julia Butters, who portrayed the youngest daughter, Anna-Kat.  Officially, Butters left to pursue other opportunities, though a quick look at her IMDB profile doesn't yet reveal any future projects. And unlike Hughes who still wished the show well, Butters did not even mention her departure on her social media channels.

Since Hughes mentions discrimination as one of the reasons why she left, the issue of diversity and representation has come up.  Ever since Frances McDormand promoted the "inclusion rider" at the 2018 Oscars, there have been attempts by television and film to be more diverse, both in casting as well as in production.  But the percentage of diversity is arbitrary, not mandated, so films and TV shows can choose, if at all, how they want to address diversity, equity and inclusion.  So with a show like AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, how many characters should be diverse?

Hughes, a Broadway star before joining AMERICAN HOUSE, was a series regular for the first 4 seasons, portraying one of Katie's best friends, Angela, a black lesbian character, who along with the only other series regular POC, Doris, portrayed by Asian American comic, Ali Wong, were part of Katie's Second Breakfast Club.

Throughout the first four seasons, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE had a black boyfriend (Amarr M. Wooten) for 6 episodes for Taylor and an Indian assistant (Ravi Patel) for 5 episodes for Greg. One could argue that the entire premise of the show was that the Otto's were dealing with a Westport, Connecticut setting that was populated by blonde soccer moms, so the need for diversity wasn't so obvious. One could also argue that Hughes and Wong were underwritten token minorities in the show.

This is not the first time AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE has had issues. Critics initially accused the show of fat-shaming (The show's original name was THE SECOND FATTEST HOUSEWIFE IN WESTPORT). They dropped the original actress who portrayed Taylor (Johnny Sequoyah) for Meg Donnelly after the pilot aired. Last year, the show's star, Katy Mixon, was sued by her former nanny for sexual harassment. Mixon counter-sued for breach of a non-disclosure agreement.

Just days before Hughes' exit was announced, Holly Robinson Peete was tapped to join the cast of AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE as Katie's childhood best friend. Let's hope the show's challenges and issues have fostered positive changes and they can now go forward.

Harrison Cheung is the author of the award-winning biography of Christian Bale (BenBella Books) and a contributor to Brave New Hollywood and The TV Ratings Guide.

@harrisonic (Twitter)

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