Devious Maids garnered skepticism and controversy early on from critics displeased by the continuing trend of only hiring Latina actresses to play maids.
The late actress Lupe Ontiveros was reportedly cast as a maid at least 150 times, including for such films like As Good As It Gets and The Goonies. That alone should sound off the warning bells about the new summer show on Lifetime.
Executive producer Eva Longoria, who was awarded a Master’s degree in Chicano Studies in May, responded to the backlash in a video by stating that the show accurately portrays the realities of those Latinas who work in the domestic service industry and that their stories are worth telling just as much as anyone else’s.
The reality of Devious Maids, however, is that it’s essentially a juicy soap opera and not a documentary into the lives of real-life Latina maids struggling in an economically and racially hostile environment.
Loosely based on the telenovela Ellas son… la alegría del hogar, Lifetime’s Devious Maids centers on five Latina maids working for wealthy, mostly white employers in Beverly Hills.
Brightly colored and borderline cartoonish, the show is very similar to Desperate Housewives in tone. Character archetypes are slightly exaggerated and there are moments of comic relief. It even kicks off with the murder of a fellow maid, just as Desperate Housewives began with the mysterious suicide of suburban housewife Mary Alice Young. (The only question remains is whether or not the dead maid will return to narrate the rest of the series.)
While there are plenty of problematic elements, among them racial typecasting, there are a few instances where Devious Maids acknowledges and subverts some of those stereotypes. The newest maid on the block, Marisol (Ana Ortiz), speaks in perfect, unaccented English and her potential employer is quick to point this out (showing her ignorance in the process). Not a maid by trade, Marisol’s true motivations for coming to Beverly Hills are revealed at the end of the episode.
Then there’s Carmen (Roselyn Sanchez). Her primary purpose for taking up as a maid is to further her goal of becoming a professional singer, since her employer is a successful Latin singer (and the only non-white character who isn’t in a servant role).
The storyline with Rosie (Dania Ramirez) and her struggles with being separated from her son and attempting to bring him over to the U.S. promises to be heartfelt, though Ramirez’s performance is a bit hammy. Meanwhile, the weakest storyline appears to be the mother-daughter tension between Valentina (Edy Ganem) and Zoila (Judy Reyes) over Valentina’s quest to get their employer’s attractive son (Drew Van Acker) to fall in love with her.
Interestingly, the biggest caricatures on the show are the wealthy and affluent white people, who are depicted as vexing, malicious, and entirely self-absorbed. The actor’s performances are over-the-top, as the characters they play are very one-dimensional, perhaps the lone exception being the object of Valentina’s obsession once the series progresses further.
If the promotional images for the show are any indication (see above), the actresses are certainly beautiful, but they all fit into the idealized, Sofia Vergara-esque image of Latina women as light-skinned, thin but curvy, and very sexualized. That’s one example of Latina representation being limited and limiting the scope of the show.
Longoria’s comments about her show shedding light on the lives of Latina maids simply doesn’t ring true. If Devious Maids does a better job of deconstructing Latina stereotypes, then I could see this show having a real impact. Otherwise, this show is mindless and soapy entertainment, at best.
Devious Maids airs 10/9 central on Lifetime.
- The Unfortunate Stereotypes of Devious Maids [Slate]
- Devious Maids Misrepresents Latinas [The Huffington Post]
- Devious Maids Review [The A.V. Club]
- Desperate Housewives: The Complete Eighth and Final Season