Films such as Chocolat, Erin Brokovich, and Joy each center a single mom protagonist, charting her success through her social and professional impact. These films document women, who, in the face of adversity, find significant professional success by the end of the film. Although these are important stories to show, the Netflix series, Maid, depicts a single mother, Alex’s (Margaret Qualley), journey slightly differently. She doesn’t become a millionaire or get promoted to a high-flying job. Her success is found through her journey rather than the end destination.
In Chocolat, new to Netflix, Vianne’s (Juliette Binoche) chocolate store, at the start, is an anomaly, and the subject of bullying in a small, conservative French town. But, through her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for baking, she makes her store a hit with its residents, opening up their worldviews around pleasure and shared experience. Erin Brokovich (a true story), follows Erin (Julia Roberts), jobless at the beginning and without a legal background, as she becomes a de facto researcher on a legal team. She exposes a corporation’s use of a chemical causing harm to thousands of people and wins them a major settlement. Joy (another true story) is about Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), who invents a self-wringing mop, becoming a self-made millionaire, household name, and TV personality in the 1990s.
These stories show us that success for a single mom is achieved at a socially significant scale. We see their apex moments of success realized on screen. When the films end, a small business is flourishing and interpersonally impactful; a $2 million individual payout is won and a businesswoman is so successful, she becomes a millionaire. The journies of Vianne, Erin, and Joy are stories of perseverance and intelligence and are inspiring. In economic terms, single moms may certainly need to become the primary breadwinners as now single parents. It is worth acknowleding, by no means defeatedly, that these womens’ stories also represent exceptional success.
One question is, how does a single mom navigate out of, and through, her challenges to become that breadwinner? Another question relates to ideas of “high impact” success and, in Maid, these inquiries expound with precision. Through a ten-episode arc, Maid shows that success for a single mom is extracting herself from a dangerous situation and unstable people and, moreover, this achievement stands on its own and is what other achievements are built upon. The series does this by focusing on what Alex has to do to get her and her young daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet), financially independent and away from Sean (Nick Robinson), her abusive partner and Maddy’s father. No step in watching Alex’s journey feels gratuitous, impacting us to understand the weight of each step forward and backward as she puts her life together.
The series is concerned with factual accuracy, which lets us see the ins and outs of what this journey is like for Alex. Scenes at the social services agency, family court, the domestic violence shelter, and her and Maddy’s first home, a halfway house, are poignant in showing the systems, institutions, and “red tape” that someone in Alex’s situation faces. Alex is being emotionally abused by Sean, a difficult form of abuse to prove in the state of Washington, where the series is set. As Denise (BJ Harrison), who runs the womens’ shelter, tells Alex, it takes a victim, on average, seven times to leave an abuser before they leave for good.
Alex goes back to the shelter after Sean throws and smashes something in the house, the same incident that causes her to leave the first time. When it repeats, Alex sees herself in Maddy, who hides in a cabinet; she did the same thing as a child when her father was abusing her mother. Determined not to repeat the pattern and having accepted that she is experiencing an abuse as real as a physical one, she enrolls in a college where she has gotten a scholarship for writing. She continues working as a maid, now with her own clients. This is a beautiful arc of the story, as she brings a pail to sit on and a folding table to the small space where she and the other women use their phones a block down from the shelter. She fills out forms, talking with the school and financial offices, securing a FAFSA loan and campus family housing and daycare.
The series’ final scene is her and Maddy arriving in Montana, beginning their new life. Before they leave, Alex tells her therapy group at the shelter her happiest days are ahead. Alex’s journey shows that securing safety and autonomy is the first step to building a future, encouraging our imagination. Maid represents an important experience of a single mom creating freedom for herself and her child(ren) by prioritizing the journey that sets her up for success.
For some social commentary and raw emotion at its best.
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