With series like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and The Blacklist focusing on white men dealing with the mafia, it’s about time there was one that centers around a badass woman of color. Actress Elodie Yung (Daredevil, Love Death and Robots) stars as Thony De La Rosa, an undocumented Cambodian doctor whose son Luca (Sebastien and Valentino LaSalle) is diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder.
They are living in Las Vegas in hopes to find a donor that could potentially save Luca’s life. With nowhere else to turn, Thony works as a cleaning lady alongside her Filipino sister-in-law, Fiona (Martha Millan).
After accidentally witnessing a murder by a mob boss’ son, Thony is recruited by right-hand-man Arman Morales (Adan Canto) to serve as the mob’s “cleaner.” She must now lead a double life — keeping her mob life from her family and navigate through this new criminal world.
The Cleaning Lady would mark the first Southeast Asian-led drama series and the first starring someone of Cambodian descent. During an interview with The Nerds of Color, Yung expressed her excitement being able to play a part of her heritage onscreen. “I just wanted to do [this character] justice,” said the actress. “I wanted to represent. I am proud of that part of me.”
With the storyline surrounding sensitive topics like undocumentation and immunodeficient diseases, showrunner Melissa Carter said a lot of research went into the series and continues to be discussed. “We reached out and several conference calls with [different groups] and talked to people who have been through it.” She wanted to keep the storyline as authentic as possible, but also maintain the drama for Thony’s situation.
Although there have been some arguments about having a Southeast Asian woman as a ‘cleaning lady,’ creator and executive producer Miranda Kwok wants viewers to know that Thony is more than just a cleaning lady. There are layers to the character — as well as the Fiona, who is also undocumented.
“I wanted to create a character that defied all the stereotypes,” said Kwok. “She’s a cleaning lady, but also, she’s a doctor. She is not anything you’d expect. Most of the time, you don’t expect anything — you just disregard your cleaning lady. What was important to me to bring these voices that are pushed into the shadows — unseen and unheard — and bring them into the forefront. That’s what inspired me about creating the show. And, to show somebody who surmount all the obstacles and challenges that were thrown against her and despite all the odds that are stacked against her, that she is able to survive and make her own rules and create her own boundaries and find her own voice. It was important to me to tell this story through the Southeast Asian lens.”
Thony isn’t the only woman of color as well. Fiona and the rest of the family are heavily involved in the series.
“There is extra glue between Fiona and Thony because they are kinda single moms in the situation that they found themselves,” said Yung. “They’re women. They fight for their kids. To me Fiona and Thony are the heart and soul of this story, I feel like Fiona is mother meerkat and Thony is mother wolf. They’re like single animals and having each other’s backs.”
The Cleaning Lady premieres on January 3 on FOX.