by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
There are certain areas of society where there’s so much judgement with very little empathy and understanding from the average individual – homelessness, domestic violence, alcoholism, mental health crises, toxic parental relationships, the red tape involved in government assistance, being a single parent and extreme poverty.
Someone’s husband is abusive – why can’t she just leave? Get a job, get a place to live – it’s that simple right?
The 10-part Netflix miniseries “Maid,” based on the real-life story of Stephanie Land in her book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive, shows why all of those struggles are anything but simple. It’s the most important show on streaming right now, during a time when our society in general is cruelly judgmental and shows a complete lack of empathy for people in need.
The show follows 25-year-old Alex (Margaret Qualley) who leaves with her toddler daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) after Sean (Nick Robinson), her longtime boyfriend and Maddy’s father, throws something at the wall near Alex in a drunken rage and screams at her. It’s important to note that throughout the series, Sean never physically hurts Alex. At the beginning, as she’s trying to get government assistance to find a place to live, the social worker recommends the domestic violence shelter. She’s quick to explain he’s never hit her.
There are moments of Sean being loving and kind to her, but always against the backdrop of manipulative and controlling behavior. I wonder how many women watching this show have realized they are in fact the victim of emotional domestic violence. If that was the only powerful realization to come out of this show, it would be worth it. However, there’s much more.
The show opens with Alex leaving and it sets her on a year’s long journey of homelessness, realizing she is the victim of domestic violence and how easy it is to just go back. Between custody battles, unaffordable or unlivable housing, unreliable transportation, the cost of everything and a paycheck that’s dependent on what shifts are available, Alex has everything working against her. She finds a job as a maid, cleaning people’s houses that are wealthy beyond belief.
But every time she takes one step forward, there’s two steps back. She’s trying to save her bipolar mother Paula (played masterfully by her real-life mother Andie MacDowell) who is constantly the victim of domestic abuse and refuses to get real help. She wades through the insane paperwork for government assistance only to wind up in a mold-infested housing unit that must be torn apart and cleaned, leaving her homeless again. Alex finally gets a landlord to agree to the government assistance agreement and is in a perfect place, only to have Sean ruin it for her. Not to mention navigating a job as a maid while getting daycare for Maddy.
Every single move she makes is for Maddy. And she tries her best to make everything perfect for her, despite the world disintegrating around her. There are so many haunting scenes, from her cleaning a home (and bathroom) where squatters lived to her mother experiencing a psychotic break, sending Alex into her own spiral right back to Sean.
As the viewer, you want so badly for Alex to get a win and you feel it in your soul whenever she loses. Qualley has a way of touching your heart with the sheer amount of quiet strength she shows in every obstacle, while also breaking it into a million pieces when she does find herself back in that abusive relationship after working so hard to get out of it. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching moment in the show where she’s trying to figure out just how she got here in life. She had a college scholarship and was going to be the first in her family to go to college. It’s one of those times when you realize how quick life can change directions.
Every cast member was stellar, including the smaller, but important roles of the rich homeowner Regina (Anika Noni Rose), Alex’s formerly alcoholic father Hank (Billy Burke) and fellow DV victim and friend Danielle (Aimee Carrero). Robinson plays the role of Sean with layers, not just simply a caricature of an abuser. But it’s Qualley and MacDowell who do all the heavy lifting when it comes to their characters. It’s really an acting master class and if both of them do not receive awards for these complex portrayals, it’ll be an absolute travesty.
In the end, Alex gets her happy ending. It was perfect and powerful.
But in real life not everyone does and that’s what makes this show so important. I found myself thinking several times, “How is she going to get out of this?” and quickly realizing that people right now are going through these impossible circumstances. The show itself is based on Land’s memoir – these struggles are not fiction.
Our government system of assistance is so far beyond broken and society itself is working against people in crisis. These are long-known truths, but until you see it either personally or portrayed like in “Maid,” you just don’t understand the nuances.
“Maid” dove right into the nuances and managed to show the harsh realities of life in the quietest of ways rather than in-your-face preaching.
It’s a show that everyone needs to see and learn from, because it’s never simple.