Masala: Dolly de Leon on How New Class Satire Centers Overseas Filipina Worker Experience

Films and television telling Asian and Pacific Islander stories are only the beginning. “The work doesn’t end in the filmmaking process,” said “Triangle of Sadness” star Dolly de Leon in a recent interview with Character Media. “It continues until after and keeping the discussion open about our voices that need to be heard.”

de Leon speaks with pride about this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or award, the highest accolade given at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Ruben Östlund, “Triangle of Sadness” premiered at the festival on May 22 of this year and follows the story of wealthy shipwreck victims who come to rely on a group of yacht workers for survival after their cruise gets stranded on a deserted island. One such worker is the bold and sharp-witted cleaning lady, Abigail (de Leon), who winds up taking charge of the crew and its passengers. 

In the film, the luxury yacht is maintained by a crew of inconspicuous Filipina cleaners, who function almost invisibly as the ship’s outrageous and gaudy passengers monopolize audiences’ attention. But by the third act, chaos leads to the inversion of the story’s initial power dynamics, as the underdog toilet manager Abigail emerges on top. 

A seasoned actress who has worked in the film industry for three decades, de Leon is unabashedly proud of the film’s representation of overseas Filipino workers. “It’s … about time that we’re represented internationally, because … our stories are really never heard,” she said. “Overseas Filipino workers, they’re the breadwinners of the family. They make great sacrifices to leave homes so that they can work, and they’re gone for years at a time. Sometimes they can’t even go home at all, and some of them are abused by their employers. I really feel like this film is on our side.”

de Leon also revealed the ways she added her own personal touches to her character. “I just had to inject some of the qualities of how a typical Filipino would behave if she were on a foreign land, because [director] Ruben [Ostlund] wouldn’t know anything about that,” she said. “I [also] added some expressions because we tend to … inject some Filipino words into our sentences, because we think in Filipino in our heads, so, it tends to come out.”

Thankful for the opportunity to tell Abigail’s story, de Leon was also grateful to be a part of such a collaborative crew. “The difference in lifestyles of people from different nationalities, it was really a melting pot of different cultures coming together, but the great thing is we’re all like-minded and we all shared the same vision,” de Leon said. “We just wanted to work together in the healthiest and most collaborative way.”

Watch our full interview with de Leon above for more!