Editor’s Note: Devious Maids, which was much maligned based on the title and brief description alone, will not make it to TV screens this fall after all. Michael Fairman Soaps reports that ABC has decided not to pick up the show for its fall TV lineup. The show, created by Desperate Housewives producer Marc Cherry, featured an all-star Latina cast of Judy Reyes, Ana Ortiz, Roselyn Sanchez and Dania Ramirez. Former Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, who was the Executive Producer of the now failed show, had defended the maids’ stories as worth of telling in this video interview.
Given the latest turn of events, we thought “Will Devious Maids Help or Hurt Latinas?”, which Mamiverse first published in March 2012, deserved another run. The questions and opinions in the article are still valid and deserve consideration as Hollywood looks at the demographic shifts happening in this country and works to attract the burgeoning Latino market.
When ABC announced plans for a fall pilot called Devious Maids, from Marc Cherry, the producer of Desperate Housewives, you could practically hear the groans from many Latinos in Hollywood.
The show, loosely based on the Mexican telenovela, The Disorderly Maids Of The Neighborhood, centers on four Latinas who are maids in Beverly Hills. Latina actresses, Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, Roselyn Sanchez, Judy Reyes, are starring. Susan Lucci has been cast as one of the maid’s employers.
It is premature to critique the show since nobody has seen it and it has not been officially picked up by the network. But many are asking why Hollywood continues to feature Latinos mainly as maids, gardeners and illegal immigrants when the population is so much more diverse?
“Part of me is thrilled when there is a Latino image on the big screen,” said Nancy de los Santos, who co-directed the documentary, The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in American Cinema. “If I am given a choice that there will be a maid or none at all, I would choose the maid. I can only hope that they would take domestic workers and make them multidimensional characters.”
But considering it’s coming from the creator of Desperate Housewives, a soap opera rife with naughty characters and murderous plot twists, Devious Maids will likely just serve up fun romps rather than introspection.
“If the title is Devious Maids, then you have to go in as an audience realizing that it will be a very specific type of show and not one that is designed to enhance or uplift the Latino community,” said Ligiah Villalobos, a television and film writer, whose Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Firelight will air in April. “Most soap operas are not there to enlighten, they are there to entertain.”
Devious Maids comes on the heels of the CBS sitcom Rob, which stars Rob Schneider, as a hapless gringo that marries into a large Mexican American family. While the show is holding on to decent ratings and was strangely given a public stamp of approval by the Latino advocacy group MALDEF, it has been vilified by critics who note that the show rarely gets beyond the guacamole and chips and spicy mama stereotypes.
The biggest question is whether Devious Maids will have significant Latino talent in the writers room—the place behind the scenes where the nuance and tone of a show takes shape. Ugly Betty, The Brothers Garcia and American Family resonated culturally with Latinos and non-Latinos alike because of the role Latinos had as either writers, directors or producers.
“It is very different when you have people within the culture being in charge of the project versus those that are not,” said Moctesuma Esparza, a veteran producer and founder of Maya Cinemas. “What has been missing in Hollywood is the participation of Latinos who are creators.”
The vast majority of show runners in Hollywood are white males and many are limited in their contact with Latinos.
“At one of my first meetings in LA at a studio, the executive said to me, ‘Oh, my maid is from Mexico.’ I was like, why are you telling me this? I’m from Chicago,” recalled de los Santos. “If the show can humanize the maids and show that they have dreams and aspirations, then great. Will that happen without Latino writers in the room? No.”
Even nuanced, empathetic and Academy Award-winning portrayals of domestic workers such as in The Help have caused a stir, mainly because they were told from the viewpoint of a white protagonist.
Actress Ruth Livier, who starred in the Showtime television series, Resurrection Blvd., said that she found it challenging to land television or film roles that were nuanced and complex. She has instead found a platform for her work on the Internet. Now going into it’s third season, her web series, Ylse, features a cast of quirky Latinos in a modern setting who deal with mainstream issues, like stumbling to achieve the American dream, while balancing a dual identity crisis.
“In general, I would say the stereotyping still tends to be true,” she said. “This is one of the motivating factors that drove me to create my web series back in 2008. The open Internet is a non-discriminatory platform that gives us the opportunity to create, produce and distribute our own content, from our point of view.”
But with a heavily Latino cast giving input and months to go before its premiere, many are hoping Devious Maids will get past its dubious name.
“The verdict is out on the show’s take. I say let’s give it a chance,” said producer Carolyn Caldera-De Fanti. “We are really hoping that this brings jobs to Latino television writers of whom there are plenty in the market place.”