Maid review: Margaret Qualley’s Netflix series steers clear of American domestic help stereotypes


The 10-part limited series presents a surprisingly convincing depiction of poverty and destitution in post-industrial America – a region known for its staggering income disparities.

Popular cultural depiction of destitution in the contemporary world is rare, especially when the demands of representational realism must be balanced with the needs of globalised digital entertainment. The new web series Maid, narrating the story of a single mother working as a domestic worker in “middle America,” breaks the trend of a series of extremely mediocre 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 part of American popular culture since the 1940s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Michael Curtiz, and Max Ophuls. The themes of the suffering woman, generational divides, and the issues of class and colour have provided Hollywood writers with the necessary ingredients for socially rooted narrative cinema. This has also led to racial stereotyping of domestic work as Black, Hispanic or Asian women, most often new migrants. The dusky Latina maid has emerged as a trope in North American film and television, especially since Jennifer Lopez’s portrayal of the emotionally vulnerable single mother from the Bronx in Maid in Manhattan (2002).

Maid, created by Molly Smith Metzler from a bestselling literary memoir by Stephanie Land titled Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, steers clear of the established stereotypes of the American maid.

The 10-part limited miniseries presents a surprisingly convincing depiction 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 tryst with homelessness and uncertainty begins after she walks out of an abusive relationship with her 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 American state for abused, single mothers, but there is humungous paperwork and red tape to contend with. From negotiating the labyrinths of governmental bureaucracy to enrolling for a highly exploitative job as a home cleaner, the narrative takes us through a journey of what a life could be for a young mother sans skills or a university degree.

The lady at the jobcentre cryptically sums up Alex’s condition “So you’re looking for a big fat government handout because you are a jobless, white trash piece of shit. Am I right?”  It is not surprising that Alex’s first client is an affluent and educated black woman as if to signpost that poverty in America is not limited to the racial minorities, and that lack of education and opportunities of the white underclass in the American heartland has created a new kind of destitution and reverse racial prejudice.

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