When I began covering Lifetime’s new soap Devious Maids last year, I was every bit the open-minded – albeit conflicted – journalist. The internal debate I was having about the show – about five Hispanic maids – went something like: “Well, there’ll finally be a television show with a primarily Latina cast!” Followed by, “But they’re all maids.” A slew of thoughts ensued, all along the lines of “We Latinas are more than maids – we’re doctors, engineers, bankers and more,” and then “maids are people too and that’s how many immigrants earn their start in this country.”
It went on like that, toeing the line between utterly opinionated (“Latinos need representation in Hollywood, no matter what!”) and utterly objective (“jobs are jobs – and if this is the way for a Latina actress to be represented on TV, so be it!”). That is, until I finally sat down to watch Devious Maids. This was my chance to either hate it – as many adamantly do – or love it, joining the growing number of superfans.
Turns out it wasn’t as simple as all that. Turning on the television, I steeled myself for the possibility of being totally insulted. Why would I, a college-educated Latina with an advanced degree, the daughter of hard-working immigrants, support a negative perpetuation of stereotypes on mass market television? And with that, the credits started rolling.
…and I got sucked in. Just like that. I watched one episode, and then another, making for a solid afternoon of binge-watching. I found the soapy drama incredibly addictive, but I also felt guilt for enjoying a show that had been the subject of so much disparagement from Latinos across the country, and rightly so.
Because at its heart, the show doesn’t stretch itself beyond the limits of storylines that smack of old stereotypes and prejudices. In 2014, Latinos now constitute 17 percent of the U.S. population (by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority as Latinos continue to swell in numbers); we own nearly 10% of all small businesses, and we played a key part in reelecting President Obama. And yet, someone – whether it was creator Marc Cherry, the show’s writers, or Lifetime executives — decided that Hispanics are defined by what they are not, instead of what they can be.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I applaud co-executive producer Eva Longoria’s commitment to elevating and representing Latinos in the mainstream. And I believe she can do it: she is a respected actress and producer whose impressive resume gives her the clout to raise the profile of Latinos in entertainment. I am also a fan of each of the beautiful cast members: the talented Roselyn Sanchez, Edy Ganem, Judy Reyes, Ana Ortiz, and Dania Ramirez. They are all gifted actresses who have emerged from Hollywood’s highly politicized casting offices and achieved a small piece of their dream. They deserve it and should not be held responsible for their characters or the show by virtue of the opportunity they were able to earn (it’s called a j-o-b; without it, you can’t eat or pay rent, people). But I do hold someone responsible for ultimately deciding that Latina cast members can only act within certain parameters of a decidedly stereotypical plot.
So, to coincide with the upcoming season premiere of the hit drama this Sunday on Lifetime, I’m proposing a few changes to the show. All of which would preserve the soapy guilty pleasure of Devious Maids, but cast off some of the sugar-coated stereotypes that ultimately make this show less than palatable for long-term consumption.
1. Why are only white people allowed to be filthy rich? Wouldn’t it be great to have a wealthy African American or Asian depicted on the show? All of the rich folks on Devious Maids seem to be white, with the exception of a Hispanic pop star/employer (a totally genius stretch of the imagination, by the way. Not).
2. Cast member Edy Ganem plays Valentina, a young maid who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Barf. Why doesn’t she aspire to become a chemist, or lawyer, Internet mogul, or rich banker? I hate the fact that even if Valentina’s so-called higher goal is to become a fashion designer, she’d still be sewing clothes for wealthy customers. Same goes for Roselyn Sanchez’s character Carmen, whose dreams of becoming a singer hardly break down stereotypes that “hot” Latinas can only aspire to enter professions where their looks – not their brains – constitute their greatest asset.
3. Valentina is head over heels in love with privileged – yet troubled – young Remi Delatour (played by Drew Van Acker). This season, why doesn’t Valentina fall in love with someone outside the 90210 zip code? And why not a create a female love interest for her? Because here’s a shocker: Latinas can be (and many are) lesbians.
4. I also have a problem with the fact that Roselyn Sanchez’s character, Carmen Luna, initially only engaged with a black man (Sam, played by Wolé Parks) as a love interest last season just so that she could get something out of him. This contributes to the stereotype that Latinas often have an ulterior motive when it comes to love, hoping to gain something from their significant other, whether it be diamonds, a promotion or in Carmen’s case, a chance to pursue her musical career.
5. Where are the strong, Latin males in this drama? I love seeing the occasional flash of strength, defiance, honesty, and bravery from the predominantly female cast, but all we’ve seen of male Latin characters on the show have been gardeners, a petulant pop star (Matt Cedeño as Alejandro), and an ex-husband who is guilty of physical abuse. Let’s change stereotypes for not only the women on the show, but men as well – providing a glimpse of the many faces in our population who are pillars of their community and providing for their families every day.
If you’re a fan – or even if you’re not – what would you change about the show that would make you celebrate seeing these Latinas on TV? Let us know in the comments below.
Devious Maids season 2 premieres April 20 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.