I generally skip the celebrity interviews in Lucky. I was planning to do the same with Eva Longoria’s, but I happened to catch the term “Federalist Papers” on a skim of “Happily Eva After” and decided to double back. And I’m glad I did:
She’s more effusive when talking about the minutiae of education reform in the Latino community or how hard it is to pass a citizenship test. (Longoria had her assistant, a U.S. native, take the test. She failed.) “They’re not easy questions. When was the Constitution ratified?” Longoria asks the room.
“1786!” shouts out the photographer.
“No!” says Longoria. “1787.”
She’s been studying the Constitution as well, both for herself, but also as a way for her, as a Democrat, to comprehend the Right. “I think it’s important that people who are politically active understand the other side as well,” she says. “I just read the Ronald Reagan biography. When you’re fighting for social justice, one of my biggest pet peeves is speaking out of ignorance.”
Longoria tells me she’s been interested in politics since she was 17, when a high school teacher in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, made her class volunteer for a Presidential campaign. It was 1992; she picked Clinton. Right now, as part of Obama’s reelection campaign, she’s been spending a lot of time in the swing states, talking with women and Latino voters.
Celebrities, especially female celebrities, struggle to be seen as full human beings. So it’s laudable that interviewer Starlee Kine made sure to touch on Longoria’s new projects (For Greater Glory with Andy Garcia is a standout), her production credits (she’s got a dating show in the works and is the executive producer of that Devious Maids show), her start in political activism, why she’s reading 50 Shades of Grey,and her sense of style. Now if only we could get a little more rigor in questions about her projects…
By Guest Contributors Kendra James and Jordan St. John and Managing Editor Arturo R. García
MSNBC’s Transgender in America: Hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry, this 20-minute segment started off with a bang when she gave a definition of ‘cisgendered’ on national mainstream media television and only got better from there, including taking time to speak about the CeCe McDonald case. If you still have a bad taste in your mouth from Barbara Walters’ 20/20 interview with Jenna Talackova (in which every question is somehow worse than the last and Donald Trump thinks he’s clever), Harris-Perry’s MSNBC segment might be just what you need to restore a bit of faith in the media. You can read Autostraddle’s full wrap-up here. - KJ
Glee: From 20/20 to MSNBC… to Glee? This episode of Fox’s musical dramedy couldn’t have aired with better timing. When Wade (a student from rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline, played by Glee Project runner-up Alex Newell, who is not a trans actor) comes to Mercedes and Kurt for performance advice, they discover she wants to perform as her female alterego “Unique.” While at first appearing male to the audience, she reveals to Kurt that she identifies as female. Perhaps this isn’t as much of a traditional learning experience as the MSNBC special but, for a show aimed at a younger viewing audience, it seems to be a fairly big step.
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.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World