By Arturo R. García
After Work It and Rob!, it’s fair to wonder if ABC’s upcoming show Devious Maids will continue the bad trend in depictions of Latin@s on network television. Nobody can say for sure, of course, until the show airs, but there are signs that are both encouraging … and not.
The core ensemble seems promising: Dania Ramírez (Heroes), Judy Reyes (Scrubs), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) and Roselyn Sanchez (Without A Trace) are set to star, and Eva Longoria will serve as a co-producer with Desperate Housewives showrunner Marc Cherry; she’s also the executive producer for a fictionalized version of A Class Apart, a documentary chronicling Hernandez v. Texas, the 1954 Supreme Court case that expanded civil rights to Mexican-Americans.
I think most of the Latino community is proud that there’s a show employing four dynamic Latinas… and they’re the leads on a show. They’re not the guest stars, they’re not the co-star, they’re not sub characters. They are the leads of the show, and they are playing maids, which is a realistic reflection of our society today in America. When we get any sort of backlash like that–“Oh, they’re just playing the stereotypical maids”–my immediate response is, “So you’re telling me those stories aren’t worth telling. That those people are lesser than. That their stories aren’t worth exploring. That they have no complexity in their life because they’re a maid? And that’s what angers me. And especially within the Latino community, with people who have had their lives touched by nannys, housekeepers, gardeners, valet, whatever occupation we have occupied as Latinos. It’s a reality, so why not tell their story and their point of view?
That all sounds well and good, but there’s a few flaws in Longoria’s argument. As Lorenza Muñoz at Mamiverse points out, that includes Cherry’s involvement:
… considering it’s coming from the creator of “Desperate Housewives,” a soap opera rife with naughty characters and murderous plot twists, “Devious Maids” will likely just serve up fun romps rather than introspection.
“If the title is “Devious Maids,” then you have to go in as an audience realizing that it will be a very specific type of show and not one that is designed to enhance or uplift the Latino community,” said Ligiah Villalobos, a television and film writer, whose Hallmark Hall of Fame movie “Firelight” will air in April. “Most soap operas are not there to enlighten, they are there to entertain.”
Moreover, Longoria’s statement dodges one of the principal concerns regarding the Latina-as-maid stereotype: it’s not that domestic workers’ stories aren’t worth telling; it’s the fact that Latina actresses keep getting slotted in those roles. (It should be noted that Longoria didn’t offer much insight upon this on CNN’s Latino In America a few years back, either.)
Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart brought this to light in mentioning the case of veteran actress Lupe Ontiveros:
Ontiveros — who has a bachelor’s degree in social work and has played a maid 300 times on screen — also said: “I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah.”
The problem is, very rarely are these kind of parts open to women with Latina backgrounds. Even Jennifer Lopez played a maid. And think of Teresa Yenque, who has been on seven different episodes of Law & Order: SVU, and played “Cleaning Lady,” “Housekeeper,” and “Housekeeper/Nanny.”
Finally, there’s the issue of Maids’ source material; the series is based on Ellas son … la alegría del hogar,(The Disorderly Maids Of The Neighborhood in English), a 2009 Mexican telenovela that lives up to Villalobos’ description, as the scenes below with Danny Perea (she’s the younger woman with long hair) show us:
A look at a trailer for alegría strains Longoria’s sentiment further:
For the non-Spanish speakers, here’s the skinny: our heroines work in the same neighborhood, navigating their personal and professional lives, until somebody disappears, a mysterious case of money appears, and it falls upon the ladies to crack the case. Oh, and there’s also a Nazi and a mute groundskeeper played by Alegría’s executive producer, Eugenio Derbez, most recently seen on Rob!
That sounds a bit like Desperate Housewives, doesn’t it? And while one can hope that Longoria will help Maids show us more nuanced portrayals of domestic workers and hire a diverse group of writers and directors, it’s also too early for her to be declaring this adaptation a source of pride.