Whether it’s October and Filipino American History Month or a rainy day in May, it’s always a great time to tune into a TV show with Filipino actors!
First recognized by U.S. Congress in 2009, Filipino American History Month recognizes and celebrates the ways that Filipinos have contributed to and played a part in American history. In the American entertainment industry, Filipinos’ impact is increasingly being felt through the TV shows and streaming series.
Growing up, it was tough for me to find Asians — let alone Filipinos — prominently (and positively) featured in the media I consumed. But those difficulties are lessening with every new TV season that comes. Whether I watch regularly, am a casual viewer, or just know of it, the amount of series I come across nowadays that star Filipinos is hopeful and heartwarming.
Beyond that, it makes a great amount of sense to see more Filipinos on TV. Not only is representation in media becoming more accurate, but Filipinos are known to be performers. Although I’m a rarity among my fellow kababayans, Filipinos love to perform whether it be singing, dancing, acting, or all three. So, it only makes sense to see more Filipinos on TV.
Here are some shows featuring Filipino actors to check out as Filipino American History Month nears an end (and after, too!):
All-American: Homecoming – Netta Walker
Netta Walker plays Keisha McCalla on All-American: Homecoming. The character is a queer college student on the pre-med track at the fictitious historically Black school Bringston University. Keisha plays tennis and enjoys dance and also shares the same Fiilpina heritage as the actor who portrays her.
A recent feature from Huffington Post detailed the similarities Walker shares with her character, including her heritage and interests.
All-American: Homecoming airs Mondays at 9/8 central on The CW.
Big Shot – Tisha Custodio
Filipinos are loving people, and basketball is one of the things we love most — there’s a reason the Philippines has the oldest basketball league behind the NBA. So it’s only fitting that the basketball team at Big Shot’s fictitious Westbrook School for Girls in San Diego has a Filipina on the team. Tisha Custodio plays Carolyn “Mouse” Smith, one of the team’s starters.
Season 2 was recently released on October 12, and there’s one scene where Mouse directly refers to her parents using terms from the Tagalog language, one of the most common languages in the Philippines. Without spoiling the story, it’s a simple but striking choice that helps elevate the moment to a different level of emotion.
Big Shot season 2 is now streaming on Disney+.
The Cleaning Lady – Martha Millan
Martha Millan, who hails from Australia, plays the loving, hardworking single mom Fiona on The Cleaning Lady. Her character is a cleaning lady but not the titular cleaning lady. Fiona is originally from the Philippines but moved to Las Vegas, where she is raising her two kids. However, Fiona is not an American citizen, so her life — and her sister-in-law Thony’s life — as an undocumented person living in the U.S. is something regularly addressed in the show.
The Cleaning Lady airs Mondays at 9/8 central on Fox.
The Equalizer – Laya DeLeon Hayes, Liza Lapira
CBS’s reboot of the 1980s crime drama features two experienced Filipinas in its main cast: one of the younger generation and one of the older generation.
Laya DeLeon Hayes, known for her voice work in the Emmy Award-nominated Disney Junior animated series Doc McStuffins, plays Delilah Fulton, the teenage daughter of a single mother — the titular character played by Queen Latifah.
Liza Lapira plays Melody “Mel” Bayani, once a sniper in the U.S. Air Force and now a bar owner. Filipinos will unmistakably recognize the character’s heritage given the last name of “Bayani,” which means “hero” in Tagalog.
In an article from Mochi Magazine, Lapira mentioned “What makes (working on The Equalizer) even more special is that Melody Bayani is one of the first, if not the first, unmistakably Filipino American characters on network television.” The feature also noted the parallels between the actress and character; both were born and raised in New York as the daughters of Filipino immigrants.
Kung Fu – Marissa Cuevas, JB Tadena
The CW action drama series Kung Fu features a primarily Asian cast, and two of the members — and their characters — are of Filipino descent.
Marissa Cuevas plays the recurring character Nadia, a secretary at the district attorney’s office. JB Tadena plays the once-recurring but now-main character Sebastian, the (hot) chef at Harmony Dumplings with a criminal past who eventually becomes the boyfriend to another main character, Ryan Shen.
In episode 3×01 “Year of the Tiger: Part 1,” both characters showed off their Filipino heritage during a group potluck dinner scene that featured Tagalog being spoken and highlighted two popular Filipino dishes, pancit palabok and adobo.
NCIS: Hawai’i – Yasmine Al-Bustami, Vanessa Lachey, Kian Talan
One half of the fan-favorite NCIS Hawai’i ship Kacy, NCIS agent Lucy Tara is played by Yasmine Al-Bustami, who is of Filipina and Jordanian-Palestinian descent. Whether her character also has a Filipino background is unclear.
The boss on the procedural show, Special Agent in Charge Jane Tennant is played by a Filipina American, Vanessa Lachey, and is also one herself. Season 1 briefly mentioned the character’s heritage and ability to speak Tagalog — which came into play and was of use during a later case in the initial season.
Naturally, her children are also of Filipino descent. Kian Talan plays Alex Tennant, his first major acting role.
Jane also has a daughter, Julie, played by Mahina Napoleon. She, however, is a recurring character who has yet to be seen in season 2. Napoleon will be in the upcoming series The Walking Dead: Dead City. The recurring Daniel Tennant, Jane’s ex and Alex and Julie’s dad, is also played by a Filipino actor, Anthony Ruivivar. He has been in various episodes throughout seasons 1 and 2.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin – Emily Bautista, Sharon Leal, Malia Pyles, Lea Salonga
One of the most fun parts about Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is getting to see both past and present versions of several characters. The now moms in the show are seen in flashbacks to their high school days throughout. It serves as a way to provide further context and show how the mothers’ pasts have tied to their daughters’ present.
Elodie and Minnie “Mouse” Honrada are one of the mother-daughter duos featured on the show. The characters are both queer and played by Lea Salonga and Malia Pyles, respectively. The teen version of Elodie is played by Emily Bautista.
According to a Nylon article, Pyles is similar to her character in that she is a queer Filipina American.
Interestingly enough, Bautista and Salonga have connections elsewhere, as both have played the role of Kim in the Broadway musical Miss Saigon. Bautista understudied the role in the 2017 Broadway revival and played the role in the latest U.S. national tour of Miss Saigon. Salonga originated the role on Broadway.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – Ginger Gonzaga, Trevor Salter
She-Hulk’s right-hand woman is a fashionable and fabulous Filipina! Nikki Ramos, played by Filipina American actress Ginger Gonzaga, is Jenn Walters’s best friend. Nikki is confirmed to be of Filipina heritage during episode 6 “Just Jen.” While helping Mallory Book with a case, Nikki can be seen sporting a pin of the Philippines flag.
It’s also worth mentioning that Josh, the love interest Jenn meets at Lulu’s wedding, is played by a Filipino as well: Trevor Salter. But my — and other Filipinos’ — excitement over Josh being Filipino lasted only a week. (If you know, you know.)
Stargirl – Meg DeLacy, Ysa Penarejo
Comic book stories and teen dramas are two popular genres in American media, and DC’s teen TV drama Stargirl is both. So, it’s especially cool that the show not only features two Filipinas, but features them as super-powered characters.
What are your favorite TV shows with Filipino actors? Leave us a comment!