Seeing the invisible work of caring: In the Maid, ExPats and A Simple Life

Ellen Elizabeth Seiter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This essay compares three films that feature a domestic worker as a primary character in order to consider how care work is represented visually in the films, how directors approach the relationship of the employer to the domestic helper, and the ambivalent emotions between domestic "helpers" and those in their care. While migrant domestic workers are typically missing from cinema and media screens, these films offer unusually elaborated representations: Kelvin Tong’s Singaporean horror film The Maid (2005), the Amazon Prime US series Expats directed by Lulu Wang (2024), and Ann Hui’s critically acclaimed independent film from Hong Kong, A Simple Life (2011). The Maid follows a Filipina migrant working her first job in Singapore as a helper; Expats follows three women living in Hong Kong, whose lives intersect around star Nicole Kidman’s tragic loss of her youngest son in a street abduction; A Simple Life portrays an aging domestic worker in Hong Kong who has served the same family since the age of 13 but finds herself unable to work after a stroke. The three narratives employ different generic strategies that limit what can be shown about the exploitation of domestic workers and the psychological dynamics of carer and cared-for.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 May 2024

User-Defined Keywords

  • film
  • domestic work
  • melodrama
  • migrant workers
  • Hong Kong cinema
  • feminist labor theory
  • domestic labor
  • care work
  • reproductive labor
  • film analysis


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