The 10-part limited series presents a surprisingly compelling portrayal of poverty and deprivation in post-industrial America – a region known for its staggering income disparities.
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Popular cultural portrayal of misery in the contemporary world is rare, especially when the demands of representational realism must be balanced with the needs of globalized digital entertainment. The new web series Housemaid, telling the story of a single mother working as a maid in “Central America,” breaks the trend of a series of extremely poor originals released by Netflix in recent months and presents a nuanced picture of what it means to be desperately poor in a developed western country.
Domestic workers have been a part of American popular culture since the 1940s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Michael Curtiz and Max Ophuls. Themes of the Suffering Woman, generational divisions, and questions of class and color provided Hollywood writers with the necessary ingredients for a socially rooted narrative cinema. It has also led to racial stereotypes about domestic work as black, Hispanic or Asian women, most often new immigrants. The dark Latina maid has become a trope in North American film and television, especially since Jennifer Lopez’s portrayal of the emotionally vulnerable single mother from the Bronx in Made in Manhattan (2002).
Housemaid, created by Molly Smith Metzler from a best-selling literary memoir by Stephanie Land titled Housekeeper: hard work, low wages and a mother’s will to survive, avoids the established stereotypes of the American maid.
The 10-part limited mini-series presents a surprisingly compelling portrayal of poverty and destitution in post-industrial America – a region known for its staggering income disparities.
Alex (Margaret Qualley), the 25-year-old protagonist is white, a child of single parents and a single mother herself. Alex’s date with homelessness and uncertainty begins after she pulls out of an abusive relationship with boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson) with her two-year-old daughter Maddy and $ 10 in her wallet . There is a system put in place by the US state for abused single mothers, but there are huge red tape and red tape to go through. From negotiating through the mazes of government bureaucracy to signing up for a highly exploited job as a housekeeper, the tale takes us on a journey of what life could be like for a young mother with no skills or college degree. .
The lady at the job center cryptically sums up Alex’s condition: “So you’re looking for a big giveaway from the government because you’re white shit and unemployed. Am I right? ”It’s no surprise that Alex’s first client is a wealthy and educated black woman, as if to point out that poverty in America is not limited to racial minorities, and that a lack of education and opportunities of the white underclass of the heart of the United States created a new kind of destitution and reverse racial prejudice.
It is a relief that the authors of Housemaid adopt a linear storytelling, sparing us the continuous and above all unnecessary non-linearity popular among web drama writers. The story of Housemaid, like life, is linear and sometimes predictable. The characters, especially the central characters, are mutual binaries. Paula, Alex’s artist mother, is self-centered and neurotic. Her need for love and attention traps her in a cycle of exploitative relationships with younger men. As Alex’s mother, Paula is far from reliable, save for occasional moments of mental clarity. Unlike Paula’s fickle motherhood, Alex is strong and unwavering in her dedication to her daughter Maddy. Nick, Alex’s abusive partner, strives to be a good father, but a damaged childhood and alcoholism trap him in a cyclical pattern of uncontrollable rage and violence. Nathaniel, Alex’s friend and male suitor, unlike Sean, is reliable and stable, and even helpful, though help eventually becomes conditional on Alex’s sexual submission to him.
The story of the young woman’s struggle in the heart of America is built on valuable performances by the main cast – Sarah Margaret Qualley as Alex, Andie Macdowell as Paula, Alex’s mother (Macdowell is also Qualley’s real mother) and Nick Robinson’s. like Sean. But the foundation is the nuanced portrayal of Qualley’s vulnerability and strength, and the working-class stubbornness of the character. She not only excels in scenes rich in dialogue, but also in scenes where dialogue is minimal, especially in scenes of emotional breakdown and depression. Macdowell, best known for her multiple award-winning performance in Stephen Soderberg’s Sex, lies and videotape (1989), depicts Paula’s neuroses and hippie abandonment with the acting method she perfected during her training in the famous Actor’s Studio in New York. Robinson’s role is perhaps the most complex. He portrays a character both violent and kind, traumatized and intelligent at the same time.
Housemaid reminds us of some of the most contemporary classics of European cinema struggling with poverty, social isolation and state apathy. These include the Belgian film Rossetta (Dardenne Brothers, 1999), about the eponymous teenager who lives in a Caravan with her alcoholic mother, and Me, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2017) which shows the bureaucratic apathy of the UK welfare system. But beyond the thematic affinities, Maid is far from these gloomy and gloomy European films. Despite the realistic and mature portrayal of misery, Housemaid is essentially a televised drama, and oscillates between naturalism and dramatic exaggeration. Although he challenges the myth of the American Dream, he still suggests that it is worth living.
Maid is streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer here
Dr Indranil Bhattacharya is an academic and a filmmaker by training. He teaches filmmaking at film schools and universities, and occasionally writes articles and reviews for web portals and magazines. He holds a doctorate from the University of Westminster, London, UK.