A Sad Inconsistency: The Support of “Devious Maids” by MALDEF, NCLR, and NHMC

Earlier this evening a friend of mine sent me the following mission statement from MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund): “Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the ‘law firm of the Latino community,’ MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access.”

She sent the mission statement to me in response to a series of tweets MALDEF’s profile shared this afternoon about an exclusive advance screening of the new Marc Cherry/Eva Longoria “Devious Maids” series, a show about five Latina maids based on a Mexican show about five Latina maids:

That content also showed up on MALDEF’s Facebook page calling for Facebook MALDEF fans in Miami to “PLEASE SHARE…..WOULD YOU LIKE TO ATTEND THE PREMIER (sic) OF “DEVIOUS MAIDS” IN MIAMI on JUNE 4th? RSVP NOW! [email protected]

MALDEF

It took me only a second to understand why my friend sent me MALDEF’S mission statement in light of what was posted on social media today. Why would MALDEF, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the National Hispanic Media Coaliton (NHMC) promote a show that I seriously doubt will do much to change the media perceptions and stereotypes of U.S. Latinos in this country? Hey, America, more hot Latinas!!!

Because, you see, THIS is the MALDEF I know…

Not this…

Or this…

So besides the fact that Longoria is a MALDEF supporter and board member (which is great), there have to be other reasons as to why all of a sudden these organizations are standing behind a show that was called “an insulting disgrace” that “does a tremendous disservice to the 20 million-plus Latina female population living in the United States” by the editor-in-chief of Cosmo for Latinas. These are the very same organizations who will share the news of a “beaner” comment on a reality show or demand that Hollywood get more diverse, as NCLR’s Janet Murguia wrote in 2012:

There is perhaps no group seen or treated more as the “other” in today’s America than the Hispanic community. Yet in today’s society, Latinos are everywhere—your librarian, server, investment banker, bus driver, university president, art school teacher, theater manager, doctor, state senator, interior designer, U.S. Secretary of Labor, neighbor, and more.

Yes, we need a change in political rhetoric: a restoration of light vs. heat in news coverage, and more courageous elected officials denouncing scapegoating and demonizing. But Latinos also need to see their reality, America’s reality, reflected on a medium that unites us all—television entertainment.

When Latinos are more than just a blip on the screen, our fellow Americans will learn that we want and value the same things—our family, our faith, our work, and our country. And maybe we will at long last stop being America’s “other.”

So, it is now a show about maids that we should rally around? Like one person tweeted to the Latino Rebels profile this evening:

@Tlamatquiticitl has a point.

Why then are these organizations now telling the Latino community to support “Devious Maids?”

NHMC’s Inez González offers some insight:

I’ve now seen the pilot, I see what Eva was talking about. Although, it’s not the type of show that I usually watch (I wasn’t a fan of “Desperate Housewives” either) and I was not necessarily overwhelmed by the script, I was thrilled to see five beautiful, smart, talented Latinas on the screen. I was delighted to hear them speak amongst each other in Spanish, sing in Spanish, and even laugh in Spanish – if that’s possible. Let me tell you, these characters do not fall under the regular maid stereotype with the furry dog and all.

Most importantly, Eva has not let me down. I, like many others, have followed Eva‘s career as an actor and activist. She has earned my respect and my trust. Seeing this pilot reaffirms what I knew to be true from her long history of volunteer and philanthropy work: that she is on our side and wants the best for the Latino community. I don’t want to see this show fail before it gets a fair chance to get better. And it will get better as I believe that the critics play an invaluable role by challenging the producers to dispense with stereotypes and weave a complex story with rich characters. As Longoria recently stated, let’s not judge the book by its cover. I’ll certainly be watching when the show premieres on June 23rd.

Herrera-Mulligan also watched the pilot and this is what she said about it:

As the editor-in-chief of Cosmo For Latinas, I chose you as our cover girl because I, like our readers, think you’re a badass role model. You were a teenage mechanic and a beauty queen. You were tough when the tabloids could have trashed you, and you were classy when you could have been glib: You said you wanted to support the community and you put your money where your mouth was. In other words, you’re a sexy, strong Latina, and we were proud to feature you. But now, as I read your column defending the show you produce, Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids, set to premiere on Lifetime on June 23, I need to tell you I’m disappointed. In your response to Tanisha L. Ramirez’ blog calling the show a “wasted opportunity,” you characterize it as “a deeper, more complex side to the women who live beyond the box that some choose to put them in.” 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 believe it does a tremendous disservice to the 20 million-plus Latina female population living in the United States.

Maybe the truth is in between, and yes, many will be watching when the show launches on June 23, so that should make Cherry and Longoria happy. However, I also find that there is a sad inconsistency when major Latino organizations are willing to just get in line because a Latina is executive producing the show. I am also wondering that if this is all about “Latinos supporting Latinos,” maybe MALDEF, NCLR, and NHMC can also hold advance screenings for all those independent shows developed by amazingly sharp Latinos who don’t have the good fortune of a white male Hollywood producer, the very same Hollywood producer who told The New York Post, “‘I’m going to need some help learning about this culture — what things I need to stay away from, what things I need to stress.’ So Eva came aboard immediately [as an executive producer]. I also got two amazing Latina writers.” Cherry also told the New York Post the following about his show’s early critics, “‘When people view things merely through the prism of race, you can’t win. Because everyone has something in their head that they believe. At some point, you just throw up your hands and go, ‘Look, I’m gonna do the best I can.'”

It is times like these when I remember what Alisa Valdes did a few years ago to protect her Dirty Girls Social Club series from being changed completely. She fought for what she believed in. Did she walk away from money and what could have been a successful series? Probably, but right now, I would bet that Valdes could produce a cool Latina “Sex in the City” or Latina “Ally McBeal” and it would be infinitely better than what Cherry and Longoria will produce. I wonder what would have happened if Longoria actually took a risk by demanding that the characters’ occupations needed to change or else she wouldn’t help produce the show. Instead, we get Longoria defending her decision:

Are maids a realistic reflection of Latinas in America today??

Yes, but they are not a reflection of every Latina.

Stereotypes are constructed and perpetuated by those who believe in them. I choose not to. As an executive producer, I choose to break the cycle of ignorance by bringing to light something we have not seen before, a deeper, more complex side to the women who live beyond the box that some choose to put them in. The only way to break a stereotype is to not ignore it. The stereotype we are grappling with here is that as Latinas, all we are is maids. And yet, this is a show that deconstructs the stereotype by showing us that maids are so much more.

I have read Lonogoria’s column several times, and I still can’t figure out what she means by this. By breaking a stereotype about Latina maids, you do a show about Latina maids? Here’s hoping that she proves me wrong, but so far, I have yet to see anything to change my mind. Just really gorgeous Latina woman in tight black dresses and a bucket of blood. Now if Longoria did a Latina version of “Alice,” I would watch that show immediately.

You see, I just think we are settling with shows like “Devious Maids,” and because of that, major Latino organizations will only be consistent when they want to be. In the case of “Devious Maids,” I get the sense that MALDEF and others are trying really hard to prove the point that Latinos must support works by other Latinos. MALDEF and Dolores Huerta did something similar when CBS’ “¡ROB!” was trying to tap into the Latino demographic, and the community saw right through it. I am starting to think that the same will happen with “Devious Maids.” If the show is not successful, is it the fault of those viewing consumers who are already turned off by the show? Will we be at fault for not giving the Latina actors and writers an opportunity to succeed on a show? No, because as with anything in a supply-and-demand world, give people good product and they will come. If they don’t see something they like, there’s always “Shark Week” or Netflix.

Here’s a thought: demand better. Don’t settle.

Instead of watching Lifetime, watch a webseries by up-and-coming Latino talent.

Give a few bucks to a new filmmaker’s Kickstarter campaign.

Tell MALDEF and NCLR and NHMC that they should work together to actively fund new shows for Hollywood.

Don’t accept what mainstream entertainment and its PR machine tell you.

If you don’t want to support Longoria for this one project because you don’t feel right about it, don’t do it.

Tell organizations like MALDEF, NCLR, and NHMC that you don’t agree with them on this one, if that is how you feel. This is a new digital world: your voice is just as powerful as those organizations.

And if you are supporting the show, respect the voices of those who don’t. Those who won’t support the show are no way near “less Latino.” They are not personally disrespecting Longoria or her success. They are just using social media to share an opinion about a show they don’t believe in. Welcome to the new paradigm.

In the meantime, maybe organizations like MALDEF, NCLR, and NHMC can get out of the premiere business, and use their collective voices to speak out against the real injustices happening right now in this country. Start with the in-custody death of David Sal Silva. We’re waiting.

***

Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  UnivisionForbesand The New York Times.

2 comments
sandyrs
sandyrs

Also, the writing, at least on the original show, was very good (I was living in Mexico at the time and caught every episode). Would people be more pleased if the maids depicted in the new show were from another part of the world, born and raised in America or from a wide range of places? Or is it the fact that maids are depicted at all that bothers people? 


sandyrs
sandyrs

This show was originally created in Mexico, where even many middle-class people hire live-in maids. There was nothing "anti-Latino" about it, given that employers and employees were from the same country! I loved it. I look forward to watching this new version as well. 

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