How Does “Cake” Utilize Racial and Class Divisions to Establish Its Characters?


Claire’s (Jennifer Aniston) only true “friend” in Cake (2014) is her devoted housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza). A short (but important) scene shows us Silvana’s home life, where her dedication to tending to Claire’s needs clearly causes a rift in her family life. Silvana is easy to admire and serves as the most likable person in the film. While the relationship first appears as the common racial/societal stereotype of a “downtrodden Mexican woman looking after a selfish, spoiled, rich white woman,” Molly Haskell of FilmComment adds:

“The movie is astutely aware of class, of racial divisions and resentments, but it understands the way feeling can cross lines. In a way, Silvana’s relationship with Claire is similar to that of Mammy’s with Scarlett: the belle is a bitch, but because someone we love and admire loves her, we come to love her, too—or at least make allowances.”

Wesley Morris of Grantland continues, “[Silvana] is asked to grieve alongside Aniston in a way that’s less appalling that you’d expect. The movie understands the class divide between them. “It’s life,” Silvana says. But she spits on the wallowing at the core of these kinds of movies and on the treatment of women like her at the hands of women like Claire.”

Cake uses class division to build the only real connection in the film. There is a great scene where Silvana flips out on Claire and goes on a tirade in Spanish about how if Claire’s life is so terrible, she should just kill herself. Another charming scene shows Claire rescuing an uncomfortable Silvana from a social situation in Mexico by pretending the classes are reversed. When Silvana’s friends see her taking Claire out for lunch and shopping, they think better of her. Though the two are from entirely different walks of life and completely different people, and while they are aware of their financial and societal roles, there’s a mutual appreciation and understanding between the characters.