September 30, 2022

An Emerging Hispanic Voice Defends Her ‘Maids’

Instead, the spotlight fell on one of the executive producers, Eva Longoria, better known for her own role as the wealthy Gabrielle Solis on “Desperate Housewives.” She worked the room like a politician, making grand introductions punctuated by a bright smile and a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and holding barely audible conversations.

Her biggest priority was to check in on each of “the girls” — as she called the five actresses — to see how they had fared on the red carpet. Nine years ago Ms. Longoria was a young, relatively unknown actress in the cast of “Desperate Housewives.” But then she changed the script, positioning herself as a Hollywood power player on Latino issues and a highly regarded political advocate.

Now she finds herself in a position of having to defend her latest project against critics who say the show relies too much on the cliché of the Hispanic maid.

“When people talk about stereotypical maids, these maids are anything but,” Ms. Longoria, 38, said over a long lunch at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood two days before the premiere party. She said future plot points would reveal more developed people.

She was eager to counter the negative reactions to the show. “I think it’s important for us to have a dialogue of identity in our culture, and even though this show may not be your experience, it is a lot of people’s experience,” she said. Latinos, she added, “over-index in domestic workers: that is a fact, that’s not an opinion.”

The ratings for the premiere of “Devious Maids,” at 10 on Sunday night, were modest. Going up against the season finale of AMC’s “Mad Men,” the show attracted 2 million viewers, slightly below the Lifetime show that preceded it at 9, “Drop Dead Diva” (2.2 million).

Ms. Longoria’s rise as a media force has been paralleled by her political ascent. She stumped for President Obama in 2012, helping round up critical Hispanic voters, and she was a founder of the Futuro Fund, which raised $32 million for the campaign. She recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago; left a few days later for Colombia to film a documentary for the Half the Sky Movement, an international women’s advocacy group; and signed on to a fund-raising drive for the political group Battleground Texas, whose goal is to raise money to “put Democrats back on the map” in the state, in the words of her message on the group’s home page.

And in May she completed a master’s degree in Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge.

“I’m a little in awe in terms of how she’s transformed herself,” said Marc Cherry, an executive producer of both “Devious Maids” and “Desperate Housewives,” who cast Ms. Longoria in 2004. “She was just an actress that had done a couple of prime-time shows and had done some daytime.”

Before its debut, the criticism of “Devious Maids” included an open letter in The Huffington Post from Michelle Herrera Mulligan, the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, who called the show a “wasted opportunity.” (Ms. Longoria had been on the magazine’s spring cover months before Ms. Mulligan’s letter was published online.)

Alisa Lynn Valdes, a former journalist and author of the novel “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” wrote a critical online opinion piece on about the show. “It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid,” she wrote, “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.”

Most maids, however, don’t sleep with their bosses. The show’s first episode begins with a whopping, albeit campy, dose of classism, with an employer threatening to deport her maid for having sex with the employer’s husband.

“They are five strong, female, Latina characters, so it’s like the three hurdles we had to overcome to get this on the air in Hollywood,” said Ms. Longoria, who added that the show also has two Latina writers out of five. “You’re never the lead, then if you are the lead, you are usually a lead that services the main character, which is a white male actor.”

Ms. Longoria grew up far from Beverly Hills, in Corpus Christi, Tex., a daughter of Mexican-American parents. Her mother was a special-education teacher, and her father was a tool engineer in the Army. “I took out loans to pay for school,” Ms. Longoria told the Democratic National Convention in 2012 during a speech that made much of her working-class roots. “Then I changed oil in a mechanic shop, flipped burgers at Wendy’s, taught aerobics and worked on campus to pay them back.”

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