'Desperate Housewives' in diplomatic row over Filipino doctors 'slur'

Desperate Housewives may be a comedy about bored suburbanites and the outrageous things they say and do, but some things are clearly too outrageous for prime-time American television.

A throw-away line in the hit show's season premiere, aired last Sunday, has provoked outrage among Filipino Americans and triggered a minor diplomatic incident involving the government in Manila and the executives who run ABC, the network that has played host to the show for the past three years.

The offending moment came when Susan Mayer, played by Teri Hatcher, throws a fit at her gynaecologist and questions his credentials because he suggests she is going through the early stages of menopause. "Can I check those diplomas," she says, "because I want to make sure they're not from some med school in the Philippines."

Almost instantly, Filipinos started objecting because they are very proud of their medical schools. The day after the broadcast, a Filipino American performance artist and college lecturer called Kevin Nadal started an online petition describing the line as "unnecessary and hurtful, but... also unfounded, considering the presence of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the health care industry". More than 50,000 people signed it.

The day after that, a spokesman for Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines, described the line as a "racial slur". Several Filipino politicians demanded an apology from ABC. The Foreign Ministry in Manila pointed out that many Americans went to the Philippines for medical services they cannot afford at home.

The Filipino consul in Los Angeles, Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon, wrote a letter to ABC further defending her country's honour. "The US recognises the students of Philippine medical and nursing schools and in general, does not require additional schooling in the US for Filipino healthcare professionals."

The reaction clearly took ABC by surprise because the network did something networks almost never do. Rather than say it was the prejudiced opinion of a character, not the show's producers – the obvious line of counter-attack – it apologised.

"The producers of Desperate Housewives and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offence caused by the brief reference in the season premiere," a statement said. "There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines. As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programmes."

Even that was not enough to satisfy some Filipino politicians. "It is not commensurate to the damage created by the derogatory remark ...," Senator Ramon Revilla said. "The makers of Desperate Housewives should formally and publicly express their apology in their next episode to signify sincerity." Others urged Filipino viewers to stop watching the show altogether.

This is not the first time that countries have taken offence at the way they are fictionalised and, often, sent up by Western writers and entertainers. It is, however, the first time one of them has struck such a nerve.

Jonathan Franzen caused similar outrage with his celebrated novel The Corrections, in which he depicted Lithuania as a country of gangsters, chronic electricity shortages and desperate citizens forced to subsist on horsemeat. His publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux, brushed off the ensuing squeals of indignation by suggesting Franzen had picked an eastern European country "at random" and created a Lithuania "largely in his imagination".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk