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Whither Philippine cinema: A lament by a young actress - Richard Heydarian

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Publish date: Sun, 19 Mar 2023, 08:16 AM
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“FOR all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams do come true,” declared Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh upon winning this year’s Oscar in the best actress category for her compelling role in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Yeoh, a long-time global celebrity of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, wasn’t the only winner of Asian descent.

Her co-star, Ke Huy Quan, won the Oscar in the best supporting actor category, cementing his position as one of the greatest comeback stories in the entertainment industry. Born in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, Quan and his family were temporary refugees in Hong Kong, which also happens to be the place where Yeoh launched her international career.

“I quickly realised that this moment no longer belongs to me,” Quan said, recognising how his award “also belongs to everyone who has asked for change”.

Just a few years earlier, auteur- director Bong Joon-ho made history by winning four Oscars, including best director and best picture, for his spellbinding movie Parasite (2019), which painfully exposed the dark realities undergirding South Korea’s glitzy surface.

And lest we forget, the Philippines’ Dolly de Leon, who has received much-deserved global recognition and rave reviews for her lead role in Triangle of Sadness (2022), was also among the stars in the 2023 Oscars ceremony.

In short, the world is changing and, accordingly, there is an unprecedented opportunity for non-Western talents to shine on the global stage like never before. And, dear reader, this brings us to a recent kerfuffle, which, despite its seemingly trivial exterior, has huge implications for the Philippine entertainment industry: In recent weeks, Liza Soberano, once a ubiquitous teen star, effectively declared her day of independence by publicly expressing passionately-felt sentiments. Following a mega social media reset, she ushered in a new era in her career via her “This is Me” vlog, where she didn’t shy from airing misgivings about the Philippine entertainment industry. Soberano revealed a stoically self-assured and impressively articulate side of herself.

After all, this is someone who had the audacity to try her luck in Hollywood, which, in turn, is in the midst of a major “woke” shift. Philippine industry leaders such as writer/actor Boy Abunda, however, weren’t too pleased with some of her views - or, perhaps, her manner of expressing them. And Filipino comedian Ogie Diaz, another industry institution, was also quick to remind the young actress of her humble beginnings and the art of gratitude.

Let me be clear: I’m neither in the position to nor interested in arbitrating the back-and-forth between the protagonists. Both Abunda and Diaz deserve maximum credit and due respect for their indispensable role in the industry. Nevertheless, Soberano should be commended for (inadvertently, perhaps) kickstarting a more honest review of the state of Philippine cinema, especially her critical views on how actresses can get “boxed in” by clichéd scripts and formulaic roles.

It goes without saying that we have among the most talented actors and directors in the world. And yet, Philippine cinema is arguably not what it used to be. Ours was a cinema that churned out brilliant movies throughout the 1980s, while our soap operas were the talk of the town across the Indian Ocean way into the opening years of the 21st century. I believe we can make Philippine cinema great again if we move on three different fronts simultaneously.

First of all, as talented young directors such as Pepe Diokno have argued, there should be - as there is in South Korea and in some of the successful postcolonial nations - systematic government support, from tax incentives to targeted subsidies, to encourage high quality, cutting-edge creative productions.

Second, we need more industry pioneers and unorthodox screenplay writers who can courageously push the boundaries of our creative industry. Thankfully, we have the likes of Enzo Williams, Eric John Salut, Janno Gibbs, and countless other talents, who seamlessly combine creativity with market exigencies.

Ultimately, however, the effort should also come from consumers and concerned citizens: We should consciously seek out and support pioneers and pathbreaking initiatives and productions, and pressure elected leaders to support key national industries.

Honouring the creative genius of 19th century artists like Felix Hidalgo and Juan Luna, nationalist and writer Jose Rizal (1861-1896) once noted how the Filipino is primed for greatness whenever given the opportunity.

 - ANN 

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