Hispanics On Mainstream TV: Building Bridges Or Busting Stereotypes?
U.S. Hispanic television continues to grow with the recent announcement that CNN Latino is expanding to Miami after already having a presence in Los Angeles, New York, Tampa and a few other markets. At the same time that Spanish language television programming is flourishing, mainstream programming is also being created to reach the more acculturated Latino viewer, with the newest example being the new Lifetime show Devious Maids, co-produced by Eva Longoria.
Devious Maids is based on the Mexican TV series Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar, which translates to English as “They Are the Home’s Joy” and heavily influenced Desperate Housewives, which both Longoria and Marc Cherry were part of as well. The similarity between Desperate Housewives is immediately apparent when the murder of a maid, having an affair with her wealthy employer, happens within the first few minutes of the pilot.
I tuned in and I must say I have mixed emotions about the show, which stem more from the perception and message it’s sending rather than the content itself. The Hollywood stereotype that Hispanics are always the help, blue-collar workers or criminals is getting old. Dania Ramirez said it best when she commented about the lack of roles for Latinas in Hollywood and said that she would rather portray a hard worker who is trying to provide for herself and her family than a drug dealer. Although there is no shame in earning a decent living doing manual labor, we need to be seen beyond this role.
While the portrayal of Latinos was most disturbing to me, there was also content that made me raise my eyebrows. Some of the one-liners that stung the most were, “The rich employer never falls for the help,” and “You don’t have an accent. I have never met a maid that didn’t have an accent, you sound like you went to college.” Many Hispanic professionals are trying to overcome these stereotypes and seeing this reflected on primetime television does not help the mass perception. The show also dramatizes and pokes fun at the vanity and insensitivity of Beverly Hills’ rich and famous, perpetuating another common stereotype so it’s not completely one-sided
I wouldn’t say that my Latin pride kicked in while listening to the cheesy Spanish music that played throughout the show. However, I will say that my Latina pride was instant when I learned about the stellar cast of leading Latina actresses going mainstream on primetime. Will I continue to tune in? Yes, I will support any opportunity to have our diverse culture shine on the small screen, I just hope the next show with such a strong Hispanic cast features a female-business owner making it in America.
In the meantime, we’ll sit tight and see what the El Rey Network, which is being launched by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in partnership with Comcast and Univision, will showcase in their show lineup when they launch in 2014. The network stands to differentiate from existing networks by targeting a Latino audience that’s bilingual but primarily speaks English.