Warning: Spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up
Latinas in television have been represented in numerous ways, some stereotypical, some barely visible, and some completely whitewashed. Recently, a Netflix show created by Neil Patrick Harris faced backlash for their stereotypical depiction of a Latina maid. Latinas have been pigeonholed into specific kinds of characters that coincide with the narratives writers—mainly white men—have curated. From chatty Latina maids to sexual dancing bodies and crazy Latina girlfriends, the roles Latinas are considered for in much of mainstream television live in this realm. If we are not meeting the white male gaze of fetishization we are poked fun at for being chismosas or not being able to speak English “correctly”. And then there’s the character of Maddy Perez played by Alexa Demie, who is of Mexican descent, on Euphoria.
HBO’s hit show is without a doubt one of the most talked-about series with weekly episodes trending all over Twitter and Tiktok with reactions to the storylines. This past Sunday’s episode was no exception as viewers bore witness to some of the darkest parts of the series, specifically as Maddy Perez was targeted by her ex-boyfriend, Nate Jacobs played by Jacob Elordi.
Maddy has been lauded as the show’s It Girl and it’s hard to disagree. Since the first season, her style, personality, and storyline made her one of the more memorable characters of the series. Her makeup and outfits have been recreated time and time again by fans of the show and her lines have been reenacted and embedded in how they reference the show. Maddy’s status as an It Girl is important to note given that by taking a look at decades of media that title has been almost always exclusively given to white female characters. A prime example of this is Gossip Girl, a teen series set in New York starring Blake Lively also stood out for its styling and designated It Girl in Serena van der Woodsen. The show to this day is still referenced and has active viewers through streaming platforms. Since even before then many It Girls have emerged in a similar fashion on TV and film—white, blonde girls who are described as the kind that every guy wants and every girl wants to be.
Makeup and styling on the show are its most recognizable features. The rhinestones, glitter, bright colors, and forward approach to including editorial makeup within a high school setting speak to the series’ distinctive style. Maddy’s makeup more than an aesthetic is also an extension of who she is and how she chooses to represent herself. Euphoria’s makeup artist Doniella Davy said in a recent Instagram post “A Maddy wing is always THE sharpest wing. Sharp like a knife to cut through whatever stands in her way”.
Her makeup is best described as her shield, her way of protecting herself and exuding her confidence. The only time we’ve seen her without makeup has been during extremely difficult times following abusive encounters with her on-again-off-again boyfriend. Her confidence is her driving force and is as palpable as her strong sense of self; if there is one thing that’s certain is that Maddy knows who she is, better than any other character. Maddy’s strong sense of self has been apparent this season seeing that even though the makeup has toned down in terms of color and glitter, her looks are still undeniably Maddy. When placed side by side to any character, one can always tell what look would be designated for her. Her style and personality transcend any trend, aesthetic, or occasion.
While discussing Maddy’s portrayal, it is important to note who is behind every storyline and character: Sam Levinson. Through whatever lens Maddy was created in there is a white man behind it, a common occurrence in Hollywood where white writers are the norm. While there are shows such as One Day at a Time or Gentefied that have Latinx creators and writers behind them, showing what can be done, here you have Euphoria where a singular white man makes the decisions and steers the story. With a character like Maddy or any POC character written by a white person, there is a lack of understanding and nuance. The shows mentioned above are as explicitly Latinx as can be—from the references to the jokes to the inclusion of Spanish or Spanglish language. In Euphoria there are rarely any direct references to her Latinx identity. The closest we’ve been able to see this happen is through Maddy’s mother’s appearances during season one where she spoke Spanish to her. Other than that, her being Latinx is not incorporated into her role in any other way. Some may see this positively since at times hopes for representation are to establish Latinx characters that are treated just like any other instead of being used as the token POC. Others may see this as a missed opportunity to add more to her personality and experience through cultural ties. Regardless, the lack of cultural markers is more than likely due to the writing and perspective. A white man cannot possibly speak to the experience of being Latina or be able to give a truly authentic portrayal as such because there is no connection between them. Levinson cannot write what a Latinx writer would because he doesn’t have that cultural comprehension.
As mentioned before, Latinas have been reduced to certain roles on television and the most obvious method to this has been that of the “Spicy Latina” trope. Spicy Latinas are full of attitude, highly sexualized, loud and outspoken, have perfect bodies, and are exoticized. It has been debated whether or not Maddy plays into this trope and from watching it appears that because we’ve become so accustomed to seeing Latinas portrayed a particular way, we may assume tropes exist where a character may just be reacting normally or presenting traits that are true to them and not just a stereotype. For some, Maddy may be seen as temperamental but in instances where she’s being attacked, a defensive reaction, like with any other person is valid. One of the more extravagant showings of this is during season one’s carnival episode when Maddy very publicly confronts Nate and his family after he criticizes her for being dressed like a “hooker” and stating that his family already doesn’t like her. Moments after, Maddy takes it into her own hands to embarrass Nate. Some people may flag this as a showing of the “fiery Latina” trope but a reaction like this makes sense considering the toxicity of their relationship.
Beyond being toxic, her relationship with Nate became abusive. Following the scene she made at the carnival, Nate went on to choke her so badly, she was left with bruising around her neck. The trauma associated with the abuse at the hands of a significant other is serious. Throughout the first season, we see the manipulation, insults, and physical abuse Maddy had to endure and in the same vein, all of the things she has had to do to keep him happy. From mimicking porn to pretending to be a virgin because that is what he wanted, Maddy had to morph herself to fit his standards. Their abusive relationship was heavily featured during the first season but it has appeared to have been swept under the rug this season, especially by some fans following interesting choices in storylines.
The most talked plot point has to do with Cassie, played by Sydney Sweeney, and Nate—Maddy’s now ex-boyfriend—sleeping together behind Maddy’s back. In last week’s episode, we see Maddy finding out about the situation and reacting angrily with Cassie’s mother making a micro-aggressive remark, referring to her as an “animal” for being so upset and possibly getting violent. As mentioned before, Maddy’s reactions to things that happen to her may be completely justified but she’ll still get called out for being too loud or being a stereotype. She is not the fiery Latina trope who gets upset at any minor inconvenience, she is a girl who was betrayed and is reacting accordingly.
There are some people defending Cassie because Maddy and Nate were broken up at the time and that they generally “feel bad” for her. This, however, does not undo the complete disregard for the abuse Maddy suffered and that Cassie, being her best friend, must have been aware of. This dynamic is a prime example of how white woman tears work to further oppress women of color. Without fail, in each episode, Cassie uses her white woman tears to try to justify what she did or express regret toward what she did to her friend while continuing to do it. Her tears and her mainstream American Beauty appeal have worked to show how white women weaponize their emotions to provoke sympathy or understanding from others despite having done awful things to women of color. When caught in her lies, she resorts to crying rather than responding to Maddy’s questions. Rather than owning what she did or apologizing, she turns from all responsibility by crying for sympathy.
In the latest episode, we see one more showing of abuse at the hands of Nate through a game of Russian roulette where he breaks into her room and threatens her to get his hands on a disc. The scene is beyond traumatizing and horrifying for Maddy to have been targeted in her own home. The episode results in Nate and Cassie getting together and seemingly having a happy ending, while Maddy is left alone crying.
The side-by-side storytelling of how these characters ended up in the episode is jarring. The violence endured by Maddy is overlooked and Cassie ends up with her best friend’s abuser. There is clear mistreatment of a woman of color and how fetishization by a white man shapes that. Maddy fulfilled Nate’s fantasy but he refused to change — if that’s even possible — for her, instead deciding to become a better person for the white woman that he is now with. Earlier in the show, we saw Nate’s fantasies and sexualization of Maddy, and then we saw how he viewed himself with Cassie as something more stable — marriage, a family, and a home.
Maddy’s character is complex and Demie does not get enough credit for portraying her. Besides being the It Girl of the series, she is also representative of multiple experiences faced by women, especially women of color. Her relationship with Nate is exemplary of the way white men may use women of color in relationships to fulfill some sort of fantasy and abuse and mistreat them only to ultimately choose to settle down with a white woman. Yet, she’s also a force to be reckoned with and even though her Latinidad isn’t front and center, it’s a powerful representation of a Latina on TV.