Whatever you think of The Help, it’s been a great thing for the formerly throwaway screen stereotype of the black maid, inviting us to see these supporting characters as leads, to follow them back to their own homes, and to begin a larger conversation about how they were mistreated during the Civil Rights era. It’s clear from the runaway success of the movie that people are responding to its sympathy for once-derided domestics, but will its cinematic halo have any effect on Latina maids, who continue to serve as the butt of jokes on TV and in movies?
If Latina maids are going to remain a staple of movies and especially television, perhaps it’s time to give them their own The Help moment. It’s not enough for the maids to simply serve as shorthand to demonstrate that their employers are wealthy assholes, because who are we more likely to sympathize with and aspire to be: the fabulously wealthy main character with all the good lines, or the nameless, put-upon maid the rich person cracks jokes about? The Help has inspired a lot of back-patting about how far we’ve come on racial progress (and indeed, its black actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are considered to be Oscar front-runners), but when you take a look at how Hollywood has been treating Latina maids these days, it’s clear that our current cinematic record is less than spotless.