Sunday night, Eva Longoria’s new show Devious Maids, starring an all Latina cast playing house maids to Beverly Hills’ elite, premiered on Lifetime.
The show based entirely on perpetuating the most common stereotype of Latina women has been celebrated, by Longoria herself and the cast, as a triumph for Latina women as the first Latina led cast in a non-Spanish speaking show. Despite the many criticisms from the Hispanic community, Longoria defends the show stating that these women deserve to have their stories told. As a Latina woman, who was raised by a Latina woman, who also happened to have a Latina house maid, I completely agree that they do. Unfortunately, I found Longoria’s attempt to do so wildly offensive to all parties involved.
The pilot episode opens with the following:
“I think what you people do is heroic. You wash clothes you can’t afford, you polish silver you will never dine with, you mop floors for people who don’t bother to learn your last name and still you dare to dream of a better life. I am in awe of your determination to succeed in this great country of ours. That said, if you don’t stop screwing my husband I’m going to have you deported, comprende?”
If this couldn’t get worse, the scene continues with said husband claiming he was “seduced … repeatedly” by the maid to which, once left alone, she responds by writing a note explaining that she was raped and ends up getting murdered in the process. And thus all hopes of the show being a positive portrayal of real Latina house maids goes flying out the window within the first five minutes.
While the most extreme storyline meant to incorporate the same kind of “whodunnit” mystery element present in Desperate Housewives, the rest do not do much to help improve the already sexualized and stereotypical portrayal of Latina women. Let’s meet the rest of “spicy little cherubs,” shall we?
There’s Flora, the whore who deserved to die.
Then there’s Marisol, the one who doesn’t have an accent and so “sounds like she went to college” who could never “understand the kind of problems” her employer’s wife has.
Zoila (two points for using the same name as beloved Hispanic house maid to Jeff Lewis, Bravolebrity, Zoila Chavez) and her daughter Valentina who work as live-in maids together for an insecure and pill-popping Susan Lucci, whose son Valentina would really like to get her hands on.
Carmen, a sexy aspiring singer who is working for a famous fellow Latino singer who also happens to have a female disabled Ukrainian butler a.k.a “that limping bitch” (yay representation!).
Rosie, a widow who is struggling to get her son Miguel, living in Guadalajara, into America. Thus far she hasn’t been sexualized but likely because she is too busy being the face for the current state of American immigration policy and raising her employer’s child.
Even the portrayals of the wealthy housewives on this show feed off of existing stereotypes. There’s a sexually promiscuous, pill popping one, a super elitist, caviar-eating, cold wife with a cheating husband, a younger, naïve and superficial second wife, a crazy ex-wife, and a really bad mother who expects her maid to raise her child. I’d imagine the wealthy people of Beverly Hills living with live-in house maids were even offended by this portrayal of their lifestyle and their ignorance.
Sure, stereotypes do not come out of thin air. There are a proportionately high number of Hispanic house maids in this country and I’m sure many of them deal with the issues they are trying to address here but the show is just not smart enough to accurately represent them.
It is hopefully clear that they are trying to portray the ignorance of the mostly white wealthy employers as extreme — something that we should all find ridiculous and be horrified by — but when it is done in the context of what is meant to be a sexy, entertaining, and comical television show, it leaves me wondering that many will not get the joke. It implies that this kind of discrimination should be interpreted as funny and lighthearted which for the real women living these daily realities is anything but.
While you wouldn’t expect a glossy new TV show to engage in a serious debate, it is much more about sex and scandal than the real issues it is trying to highlight. By playing on the stereotypes it also implies that all maids, and tangentially all Latinas, are poor, under-educated, “like to be pretty too,” undocumented, and single (bad) mothers.
It appears to try to be a Latina TV version of The Help. The context is different yes, but it's, at best, disappointing that the Latina version had to play out in the form of a trashy and sexualized TV show. It ends up being more of a failed attempt at a comedy version of Downton Abbey, if Downton Abbey was really poorly written, based on perpetuating a modern day stereotype, and set in present-day, but still racist, Beverly Hills. The only saving grace is that they don’t actually make the maids wear the French maid costumes they use in the promos.
In response to Longoria’s attempts to defend the show, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, states “Well Eva, I’ve watched the show and I’m genuinely sad to say that I disagree. It’s not a complex portrait; it’s an insulting disgrace.”
I couldn’t agree more.