May marks 6 months since Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning film Roma came into the world.
It sparked a series of milestone moments, from being the first Mexican film to win Best Foreign Language Picture and the first foreign film to win Best Director.
It made a star of Yalitza Aparicio, a woman of indigenous descent, who became the first indigenous woman to appear on the cover of Mexican Vogue and the first Indigenous American woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.
The film sparked countless essays and conversations about class, race, and gender, helping to move domestic work from a behind-closed-doors topic of conversation to the national stage.
Here, Hand in Hand Steering Committee member Amy Mazur reflects on a conversation she had with friends and neighbors after seeing the film. She wrote this earlier this year, after a screening she organized. The discussion guide she used is included in part below—so you can still organize a screening and chat in your own living room!
My Roma Moment as a Domestic Employer
I recently had a chance to gather with a small group of women from my neighborhood and faith community near Boston to discuss the Oscar winning film Roma from our vantage point as domestic employers. Roma brought us into the world of Director Alfonso Cuaron’s Cleo, the protagonist and a domestic worker who navigated the terrain of her friendships, romantic relationships, work responsibilities, and the intersection of her emotional life with the life of the family who employed her.
Thanks to the help of Hand-in-Hand providing some very penetrating questions as a guide (see below), we were able to discuss topics related to our own workplace practices, the relationships we have with the domestic workers we employ, the power and gender dynamics that are present, and the sisterhood that we hope to foster with other women by being active in this movement.
During our discussion, I spoke about my frustration with wanting to communicate more frequently and openly with Danielle and Aline, domestic workers whom I employ who speak Spanish and Portuguese; I only speak English. Another woman talked about how easily she communicates with her house cleaner because of her facility with Spanish. Another woman in our group shared her experience growing up in another country where her extended family had “servants.” She remembers being a young girl and seeing the disrespectful treatment of these workers by the adult family members around her. Another woman spoke about how she now tutors a former domestic worker that she had employed, and how that relationship has developed over the years.
I remember earlier in my life speaking about the house cleaners my family employed as being “like part of the family.” Other women in the group shared that same experience. We acknowledged it to be a common expression that generates shame and discomfort. Were we unaware of how one-sided we were in seeing the relationship? Did we forget how power, economics, race, language and culture would not create a different way of experiencing the worker/employer relationship? What was Cleo experiencing? We were eager to dig deeper and to explore ways that we could examine our own behaviors, and interrupt a limiting narrative that has been present for too long.
We have more work to do to create real and lasting change related to the domestic worker/employer relationship. Thanks to Roma and the work of Hand in Hand, I am optimistic that conversations will continue, the narrative can be rewritten, and powerful and meaningful interdependent relationships can be forged.
Sample Questions from the Roma Discussion Guide
•What are your initial feelings and impressions of the movie Roma?
•If someone were to ask you what Roma was about, what would you say?
What is Domestic Work?
• Did you grow up in a home that was also a workplace for a domestic worker: a nanny, housecleaner, or home care worker for an elderly or disabled family member?
• What are your memories of these workers? How did you or your parents relate to them?
Employer/ Domestic Worker Dynamics
• In what ways was Cleo a member of the family, and it was ways was she not?
• Cleo is taken to the hospital by her employer and gets medical attention due to her employer knowing the Doctor. But the grandmother doesn’t know Cleo’s last name or age. How did you feel during that moment? Why does Cuaron show that?
Potential for Sisterhood
• Men are largely absent in the film and when they are present, they do not contribute to the positive well-being of the female characters or family. At one point in the film, Sofia comes home and tells Cleo that “women are always alone.”
•What does she mean by that? Do you agree with her sentiment?
•How are some ways that women overcome structural barriers in society to experience true sisterhood? Can you think of any recent examples in the U.S. of women coming together in a transformational way?
Change in the home and in society
• If you’re an employer, how do you feel about the fact of employing a house cleaner, childcare provider, or home attendant?
If these questions spark ideas or feelings for you, they probably do for others you know. Bring them up with a parent or sibling over coffee, or invite friends over for a “movie club” viewing and conversation. (As of this writing, it’s still streaming on Netflix!)
Do you employ someone in your home? Check out our best practices, devised in collaboration with nannies, house cleaners, and homecare workers, and see if there are any places you’d like to adjust things.
Know that it’s the system we were all born into that set us up for these complex relationships. Take action by joining Hand in Hand and supporting the National Domestic Workers Alliance‘s efforts to bring dignity and respect to domestic work.