Maids To Order?: Eva Longoria Defends Her New Show

Courtesy Mamiverse.com

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.

In an interview with Latino Voices, Longoria seemed to be positioning Maids as an extension of the social-activism campaign that followed The Help:

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:

Courtesy Latinheat.com

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.

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  • Jacob

    I’m looking forward to this show.  To say that soap operas are just for entertainment and not education runs counter to the history of soap operas around the world, especially American daytime soaps where topics from race, the Vietnam war, sexuality, and AIDS have been explored to educate the public.    

    Frankly, I’m looking forward to the show skewering stereotypes and upending power relationships.Also, I like the casting of two Afro-Latinas alongside two lighter-skinned white/mestiza Latinas.  I hope that the show actually explores the differences between race and ethnicity.   

    • Anonymous

       Unfortunately, in this day and age,  not enough people would actually watch a show like that to keep it on the air.  Particularly if the main characters aren’t white.  And if the main characters aren’t white, the last thing anyone’s interested in is skewering stereotypes.  

    • Anonymous

       Unfortunately, in this day and age,  not enough people would actually watch a show like that to keep it on the air.  Particularly if the main characters aren’t white.  And if the main characters aren’t white, the last thing anyone’s interested in is skewering stereotypes.  

    • Anonymous

      I agree. I will give it my 3 episode chance.

  • Jacob

    I’m looking forward to this show.  To say that soap operas are just for entertainment and not education runs counter to the history of soap operas around the world, especially American daytime soaps where topics from race, the Vietnam war, sexuality, and AIDS have been explored to educate the public.    

    Frankly, I’m looking forward to the show skewering stereotypes and upending power relationships.Also, I like the casting of two Afro-Latinas alongside two lighter-skinned white/mestiza Latinas.  I hope that the show actually explores the differences between race and ethnicity.   

  • Lunanoire

    Hopefully Lupe Ontiveros will one day have the opportunity to play not just any judge, but a Supreme Court justice. Once again, the question arises: Is [insert artist] trying to make this project based on stereotypes because they think it’s required to be palatable to wider audiences, or does [the artist] really buy into this way of thinking or not care that it reinforces stereotypes? So often, the reasons may differ but it all looks the same on the outside.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

      Roselyn Sanchez is to good to be a stereotype. (She should of been a starship captian or a someone that young people can look up to)

  • brandi

    Is she really using The Help for her argument?

    • Anonymous

      Not explicitly. But the language she used in the interview sure seems to point in the direction of selling Maids as an “uplifting” story, which doesn’t quite sound consistent with the source material.

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

     My concern about this show is how or if the respective ethnic backgrounds of each of these women will be dealt with. Will they just be generic Hispanic women? Or generic Latinas? Dania Ramírez and Judy Reyes are both Dominican, Ana Ortiz is Puerto Rican and Irish and Roselyn Sanchez is Puerto Rican.

    As an African American I am concerned that this country is trying to do to people whose ancestry is in countries where Spanish is spoken what it has done to African Americans. One hundred years from now will so-called Hispanics not know where they come from as well?

    There is a huge difference in the cultures of Dominican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Guatemalan- Americans, etc. Network TV and media in general seems to be moving toward not acknowledging the specific ethnic heritage of so-called Hispanics. And that to me is very problematic.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting point about the diversity of states/countries the actresses come from … think this will be a big opportunity will be to celebrate that diversity of national origin, ethnicity, accent, etc., as well as the diversity in terms of color of the actresses since Judy Reyes has self-identified as Afro-Latina (see http://youtu.be/tT7_oQzDYMw)

  • Anonymous

    What’s also worth bringing up is that the romantic interests of the women may very well be primarily white men. The reason this is worth bringing up is because, in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned as romantic interests for Anglo men. Notice that in comparison nonwhite males are rarely main romantic interests much less for white women and even less so as leads in a mainstream TV shows and movies.

    Just the name alone raises suspicious (“Devious Maids”) as it doesn’t sound that different from the names of pornos that feature the “Hispanic maid” stereotype as a fetish for Anglo men.

  • Anonymous

    What’s also worth bringing up is that the romantic interests of the women may very well be primarily white men. The reason this is worth bringing up is because, in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned as romantic interests for Anglo men. Notice that in comparison nonwhite males are rarely main romantic interests much less for white women and even less so as leads in a mainstream TV shows and movies.

    Just the name alone raises suspicious (“Devious Maids”) as it doesn’t sound that different from the names of pornos that feature the “Hispanic maid” stereotype as a fetish for Anglo men.

  • Anonymous

    What’s also worth bringing up is that the romantic interests of the women may very well be primarily white men. The reason this is worth bringing up is because, in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned as romantic interests for Anglo men. Notice that in comparison nonwhite males are rarely main romantic interests much less for white women and even less so as leads in a mainstream TV shows and movies.

    Just the name alone raises suspicious (“Devious Maids”) as it doesn’t sound that different from the names of pornos that feature the “Hispanic maid” stereotype as a fetish for Anglo men.

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

       ”in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as
      long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned
      as romantic interests for Anglo men”

      I agree.

    • Jacob

      Isn’t positioning non-white women with white men a recent development? How long ago was it that Sanna  Latham starred in “Something New”?  I agree that there should be more balance but for far too long a non-white woman and white man were verboten. 

      • Mickey

        The positioning of non-white women opposite white men is far from recent. On television, at least, one was to see a non-white woman/white man coupling much more so than the other way around. Remember Tom & Helen Willis from “The Jeffersons”? Soap operas were also known to show such couples.

        It has always seemed to me that if IR relationships were to be showcased, it was either one type or the other, never an even balance.

        • Keith

           Also:
          21 jump street
          taxi
          blossom
          boy meets world
          Sanford and son
          Girlfriends
          Golden girls
          felicity

          With other women of color white men make up the majority of the relationships. In away making couples interracial a standard on prime time television takes away from normalizing POC as being part of American culture collective. The so called melting pot that I keep hearing about.

        • Keith

           Also:
          21 jump street
          taxi
          blossom
          boy meets world
          Sanford and son
          Girlfriends
          Golden girls
          felicity

          With other women of color white men make up the majority of the relationships. In away making couples interracial a standard on prime time television takes away from normalizing POC as being part of American culture collective. The so called melting pot that I keep hearing about.

    • Jacob

      Isn’t positioning non-white women with white men a recent development? How long ago was it that Sanna  Latham starred in “Something New”?  I agree that there should be more balance but for far too long a non-white woman and white man were verboten. 

  • Anonymous

    What’s also worth bringing up is that the romantic interests of the women may very well be primarily white men. The reason this is worth bringing up is because, in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned as romantic interests for Anglo men. Notice that in comparison nonwhite males are rarely main romantic interests much less for white women and even less so as leads in a mainstream TV shows and movies.

    Just the name alone raises suspicious (“Devious Maids”) as it doesn’t sound that different from the names of pornos that feature the “Hispanic maid” stereotype as a fetish for Anglo men.

  • Anonymous

    What’s also worth bringing up is that the romantic interests of the women may very well be primarily white men. The reason this is worth bringing up is because, in the context of Hollywood and its pigeonholing, nonwhite women (as long as they are not “too black” it seems) are almost always positioned as romantic interests for Anglo men. Notice that in comparison nonwhite males are rarely main romantic interests much less for white women and even less so as leads in a mainstream TV shows and movies.

    Just the name alone raises suspicious (“Devious Maids”) as it doesn’t sound that different from the names of pornos that feature the “Hispanic maid” stereotype as a fetish for Anglo men.