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Casting controversy: Filipino American actress replaced as lead in new Fox drama

Photo of Shannyn Sossamon at the 2013 MIFF Awards via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Views From The Edge

By Ed Diokno

(editor’s Note: We inadvertently published an outdated story that was not intended to run. The story is now updated. We apologize for the confusion.)

OH NO! The one time a Filipino American was going to be a lead actor in a US television production isn’t going to happen.

The initial excitement at the prospect of seeing a Filipino in a dramatic series has gone in a poof. The script change in Fox’s The Cleaning Lady is evidence of the compromises that have to be made in order for a Hollywood product get greenlit.


For some reason, Shannyn Sossamon, the original Filipino American actor picked as the lead didn’t survive the table read and the decision was made to seek a replacement.

Elodie Yung



So producers picked Elodie Yung, who is Cambodian French. Instead of insulting Filipino Americans by trying to pass a Cambodian French actress as a Filipino, the creators decided to rewrite the script to fit the actress.


It is not exactly a case of whitewashing ala Scarlett Johansson in The Ghost in the Shell, but for Filipinos, its just as bad. 


In the original script, Sossamon was cast as Reyna Salonga. With Yung’s casting, the ethnicity of the Reyna character has been changed. The main character  now she will be Cambodian doctor married to a Filipino. and somehow, (don’t ask me how) keep the “drama’s focus on Philippine culture,” according to Deadline.


The altered synopsis now reads (with my emphasis):

“Reyna is a whip-smart Cambodian doctor who was working in a top medical center in Manila, Philippines, where she met her Pilipino husband Marco Salonga. After their son was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder, Reyna comes to the US for a medical treatment to save their ailing son. But when the system fails and pushes her into hiding, Reyna refuses to be beaten down and marginalized. Instead, she becomes an on-call cleaning lady for the mob, while keeping secrets from her undocumented Filipina sister-in-law Fiona Salonga (Ginger Gonzaga) and dodging the FBI. Willing to do anything to save her son, Reyna walks the tightrope of morality, breaking the law for all the right reasons — and eventually forges her own path in the criminal underworld as she starts playing the game by her own rules.”

Gonzaga, thus, becomes the only Filipino actor in the main cast.

Yung is probably best known for her role as martial artist extraordinaire Elektra Natchios on Marvel’s Netflix series Daredevil and The Defenders.


How Yung was selected over other equally talented Filipino American actresses is something we’ll probably never know. Creator and writer Miranda Kwok and Executive Producer Shay Mitchell, who is Filipino Canadian, haven’t said anything about the casting news in their social media accounts.

Who could have played Reyna? First off, we eliminated Filipino Americans Hailee Steinfeld and Vanessa Hudgens because they’re too young to play someone who went to college and four years of med school followed by a residency. Although the role plays against type, we’re sure these two extremely talented actresses could have handled the acting responsibilities of the role. Their name recognition alone would probably break the series’ budget. But still, too young.

The obvious choice would have been Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell herself. Maybe as an executive producers she’d agree to a lower salary scale to help her foray into producing.

Would Nicole Scherzinger break away from her role as one of the judges in the popular The Masked Singer to delve into a dramatic role?

Again, even though she’s Filipino American, maybe there are budget restrictions.

Then there are four actresses that are in the right age-range and their salaries would probably be reasonable enough for a prospective series. These include Vanessa Minnillo Latchky, Sharon Leal, Lea Salonga and Nia Peebles.

Then there are the experienced actors who have been waiting for their “breakthrough role” on the Hollywood’s fringes. This tier of actors include Eva Noblezada (Miss Saigon), Tess Paras, Ali Ewoldt (Phantom of the Opera), Jaygee Macapugay (Here Lies Love), Asia Jackson and a host of others doing student films, stagework and taking acting classes.

Unfortunately, The Cleaning Lady, like the rest of the projects in Hollywood are at a standstill as Tinseltown is also practicing self-isolation to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is petty. Cambodian actors are an even more minority than Filipino actors. Instead of tearing down other Asians lets help each other out and build together.

  2. Lame.
    Shannyn Sossamon isn’t even half Filipina, and Gonzaga’s barely a Mestiza. If you’re going to take a strong stance regarding race-quotas in Hollywood, don’t go around sounding ignorant about the racial background of those you’re writing about. -You may as well say any number of white American actors are “German” actors, because they happen to be 1/64th German.

  3. I’m assuming Elodie Yung was chosen because she will be expected to handle action scenes like Halle Berry’s character in John Wick 3 but as the lead with a complete backstory!

    I hope this is the direction for the show because Killing Eve was pure disappointment. With all the accolades for diverse casting, they portrayed Eve as an intelligence officer who couldn’t hold a gun, was skittish and rather incompetent. Then, the show completely diminishes Sandra Oh’s scenes in the later seasons.

    Please, Miranda Kwok and Shay Mitchell, you have a chance to fill this void with better Asian leads and maybe Sandra Oh can make an appearance as an ass-kicking agent that she is.

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