‘Devious Maids’: The controversy behind the new Lifetime drama
(CNN) — TV history will be made Sunday night with the premiere of “Devious Maids,” the first prime-time program featuring an all-Latina leading cast. But even before the first episode has aired, the Lifetime show is receiving a slew of criticism.
Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives” is the creator and executive producer, and he’s joined by two fellow “Housewives” alums: Sabrina Wind and Eva Longoria. The soapy comedy-drama is about five Latina maids who work for wealthy families and dream of a better life.
The pilot opens with a Beverly Hills hostess scolding her maid: “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 name,” finally ending with, “That said, if you don’t stop screwing my husband, I’m going to have you deported.”
“Devious Maids” is loosely based on a Mexican telenovela “Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar,” and stars Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”), Dania Ramirez (“Premium Rush”), Ana Ortiz (“Ugly Betty”) and Roselyn Sanchez (“Chasing Papi”). Newcomer Edy Ganem plays Reyes’ daughter.
Recently, some in the Latino community have expressed their disappointment for the show, calling it a “wasted opportunity” in that it will only perpetuate the ongoing issue in Hollywood that Latinas can play only stereotypical roles such as maids, gardeners and nannies.
“It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid,” wrote Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, author of “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” in an opinion piece, “but there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.”
Longoria responded to the backlash on The Huffington Post: “I take pride in the fact that these characters are not one dimensional or limited to their job title. As the minority becomes the majority and the United States becomes more diverse, it is important that the protagonists on television embody this diversity.”
“However,” she continued, “television is a business. If we don’t support shows that have diverse content, we won’t see shows with diverse content! They will simply go away, and the hurdles to make the next show with diversity will be even more challenging.”
Michelle Herrera Mulligan, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, countered: “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 saw the first [episode] and thought it was annoying,” Valdes-Rodriguez said. “I just don’t like the flamenco guitar tone every time there’s a Latina on the screen. It’s very unimaginative and predictable. I have no interest in the show at all.”
The National Hispanic Media Coalition is supporting the show, stating members of the coalition watched the pilot and saw nothing wrong. They said if Lifetime were depicting Latinas in negative stereotypical roles, the coaliton would be the first ones to criticize the show.
“Some of the issues that Latinos go through in this country is characterized by each of these maids, things they are trying to overcome,” said Alex Nogales, executive director of the coalition, interview with CNN. “If I came from a poor migrant experience, does that mean that story doesn’t get told? That’s silly.”
Part of the criticism is the frustration that Hispanics don’t have more characters on television that represent them as nurses, doctors and lawyers. Nogales says that to imagine Latinos being represented on-screen as successful professionals before telling the immigrant stories of hardship, assimilation and struggle first just won’t work.
Actress Ramirez said on a phone interview with CNN that Cherry has hired two Latina writers, Gloria Calderon and Tanya Saracho, “to make sure that the Latino voices were really present and heard.”
“We have, as Latina maids, been portrayed on television and movies, but none of them have been humanized,” she said. “None of them are real life stories, choosing to take this role is more interesting to me because I get to tell a story of struggle.”
For Ramirez, playing the role of Rosie Falta on the show strikes an emotional chord. Her character is a widow who left her son back in Mexico when her husband died and is working as a maid to help bring him to America.
“Not only do I tell this real compelling immigrant story, but I get to tap into my own experience because my parents had to leave me as an infant with my older sister, Danilda, back in the Dominican Republic and that took a lot of courage,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez’s mother worked as a clothing factory worker but was a nurse back in the Dominican Republic, and her father was a taxi driver, although he was a chemist back in his home country.
“Now, I finally have a chance to portray the stories of the older generation,” said Ramirez. “If we are going to tackle Hollywood, then we need to educate Hollywood first. You gotta start there.”
However, Valdes-Rodriguez says that people form their idea of reality by what they see on television. She used the racist comments about the boy from San Antonio who sang the national anthem at the NBA finals as an example of people “who don’t know anything about Latinos’ different cultures.”
“I would advise those people to take a closer look at the people who attacked this boy … where did they get the idea that we’re all illegal immigrants? Well, the opening of the pilot episode of ‘Devious Maids’ has a boss threatening to deport one of the maids. Is this the only image Hollywood sees of us?”
Ramirez hopes audiences see that the leading ladies on “Devious Maids” as more than maids who are not defined by their jobs who happen to be Latina. Even though Ramirez has played every role from “the hot girl” to a superhero, she asks audiences, “how is that better?”