A Suggestion to Filmmakers: Make Elite the Heroes

Super Elite leads the way

Back on Ilda’s article about Filipino film, where we encountered lots of flak on our opinions on Filipino film, commenter Christy made this highly insightful piece on the topic:

“I have noticed this trend in indie films from the past few years based on a friend’s observations: themes always centred on slums, slums, slums, slums…whores, whores, and many whores…then, there’s our gay genre that either depict homosexuals as, erm, someone so degrading or comic relief…”

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The commenter ends with this rightful plea:

“Good for you for your support for these films, but all my friends and I want is to see ordinary filipinos like us onscreen, but in a story that’s really worth an in-depth analysis. So if anyone want to support our film industry, be challenged to reach us, ordinary but not stupid folks, into watching worthwhile narratives.”

That’s a good call. I enter here to propose my idea to answer this challenge:

“Instead of focusing on slums, slums, slums, and whore, whores, whores, show a rich person who’s doing it right in life, and show how he’s trying to correct the lazy poor and helping them get their lives on track! I have YET to see that kind of movie. It’s always rooting for the underdog. This time, root for the overdog!”

Following Orion Perez D’s idea that the enlightened elite should lead the country should be the direction of movies. Make the elite the hero. Rooting for the underdog is a trend that I feel has been influenced by biased leftists in the movie industry.

The Elite show how a person should behave in society, properly make decisions, have excellence and have a true sense of justice. That is the ideal hero. Super-galing, super talino, super da best. The Elite. This should be shown in the movies and TV shows.

Unfortunately, what Filipinos so commonly see are films and TV shows that depict the poor as so poor and oppressed, that they tend to be the ones asking for the dole outs given out by the DSWD’s CCT. And when people watch this, they tend to imitate it and become mendicants. The shows teach people to be weak, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Thus, such shows reinforce the dysfunction of our society.

Thus, should Filipinos entertainment media change their content and message, they would contribute to society’s betterment by showing the solutions rather than sensationalizing the ills.

Break the mold. Stop overfocusing on the marginalized. Show the model that people should emulate. That would make Filipino movies and TV shows much more worthwhile – or worth it at all.

27 Replies to “A Suggestion to Filmmakers: Make Elite the Heroes”

  1. Spot on Chino! I continuously lament how documentaries depicting poverty, alleged exploitation, the criminal underworld, etc are a dime-a-dozen while there’s hardly any material on the Sys, the Gokongweis, the Ramoses (NBS) etc.

    This society’s positive feedback loop is actually a negative feedback loop — show nega, feel nega, be nega — leading to all this bullshit societal idiocyncrasies GRP writes about/against.

  2. These commentators are clearly not aware of the mindset where these filmmakers are coming from. Inspired by Marxist and postcolonial theory, they seek to represent the underprivileged subalterns whose violent and exploited contexts are usually used as fodder for sensationalistic tabloids, nonchalant news reports or melodramatic TV documentaries.

    To hail the elite–the very cause of the disenfranchisement of these people, those who maintain the system that oppresses us–is a jaded proposition. The elite have been keeping the country from fairer progress ever since 1898. Haven’t you read on their provincial oligarchies during the time of the American occupation? Aren’t you the ones complaining about the familial rule of the Aquinos?

    To hail the elite is to miss on the point of the recent year’s revolutions as well. While the rest of the world is challenging the 1%, your thesis contends to praise the privileged who are largely behind the ever widening gap between rich and poor.

    And to argue that portrayals of the underprivileged spoil them into resignation is questionable. Is it not the saccharine romanticism of mainstream local cinema that makes them think that everything will be alright? In contrast, isn’t the pain uncompromisingly depicted in independent film capable of striking up righteous indignation?

    Lastly, your critiques seem to lack citations, at the very least. No college freshman can get away with the points you’ve made without at least pointing out which texts you’re critiquing.

    For example, you argue that indie films largely capitalize on the lower classes. What of the bourgeoisie characters in Francis Pasion’s “Jay”, in Alvin Yapan’s “Huling Pasada” and TJ Trinidad’s “MKAK”? And of the middle class high school youth in “Senior Year”? You might have argued with generalizations that lack foundation to begin with.

    1. “Is it not the saccharine romanticism of mainstream local cinema that makes them think that everything will be alright? In contrast, isn’t the pain uncompromisingly depicted in independent film capable of striking up righteous indignation?”

      My reply:
      Wasn’t there already a film, a semi-independent one, that dealt with how some of these indie filmmakers are exploiting poverty themes? How this film, too, tried to point out not on the themes of poverty but the wrong motives of these filmmakers? The hypocrisy is there to see that these filmmakers (some I believe) who try to depict this ‘reality’ are not even deprived of worldly things. The depictions of these poor people are not even downright dignified. I’ve met more dignified poor people than the ones ever even depicted by the films of Brillante Mendoza (as seen by the awful trailers). How much more are we to see them completely downtrodden?? It is not helping our people see truth but rather ugliness, exploitedness, cheapness, everything stripped off of dignity. Danny Boyle made a film Slumdog Millionaire to perhaps, present the alternative India in contrast to the rich, beautiful people in Bollywood cinema. There had been a controversy behind this because it cries this ‘poverty- whoa is me’ world. I have an Indian friend and he even told me that he did not even like this film because it didn’t ring true to heart; there was no sincerity to it. Most of the poor people depicted are one-dimensional. Certainly it may be true of our film industry which several now I belive choose to depict these people to get served up as ‘props’ for what kind of sensational schtick they want else to portray as socially relevant. And who watches these films, in the end? Not the masa, not the average hardworking filipino, but our film elites, who can’t even comprehend why our people still try to look out for foreign cinema. What I would lastly like to point out is the emphasis of these sorts of films as defining the pinoy. Really? Brazil has the biggest dumpsite in the world, yes, but they don’t make a lot of films about how this is only existing in Brazil and oh look there are people here living shit everyday as if it helps the situation any further. And look, they made ‘The City of God’ which is one of the best films that’s come out in the last decade and made recognition worldwide, and which even made it into the top list in film magazines. Film is still art, not piece of reality.
      If filmmakers ever want my awareness (which I already am so much aware of and I’m doing things through charity) for such films, then give them a story, a worthwhile purpose, cathartic scenes which will burn in my precious memory forever, and actors who act like they’re not doing kabuki. Then, may be I can conclude finally that we’ve grown up.

      1. It’s true that artists sometimes hail from positions of privilege. Acclaim for aesthetic creations often come from the university setting, in which, some degree of privilege is required for one to “make it.”

        However, a position of privilege does not directly mean that the quality of these films are questionable. I NOTE that this is not a direct answer to the objection, but only an approximation. But in the recent Manila Italian film festival MovieMov 2011, Mendoza’s movies “Lola” and “Kinatay” were showcased alongside the works of Italian canonical filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. That at least implies that his films are good enough to be showcased along these greats.

        HOWEVER, I am appalled at the way that you judge Brillante Mendoza’s films BASED SOLELY ON THEIR TRAILERS. That’s nearly tantamount to saying that Tolstoy’s novels are bad just because the synopses sound complicated.

        (To the people here: what local independent films HAVE YOU ACTUALLY SEEN to begin with?)

        And what does it mean to judge cinematic excellence by a mainstream film such as “Slumdog Millionaire”? Hollywood capitalizes on rags-to-riches story by the very virtue that they sell. And it’s not exactly empowering to the masses that a man arises from poverty by the unlikely serendipity of his life experiences coming together to help him win a game show. Hollywood has long lacked in the tragic tradition of their European, Arabic and Asian counterparts. Would it not be wiser to judge cinematic tragedy according to the other tragedies from World Cinema?

        What would be left with if “film [was] still art, not [pieces] of reality”? Are you implying that if cinema was incapable of verisimilitude then it would only be crass class representation? In light of the article we’re commenting on, what does that mean? That filmmakers only ought to create tributes for the elite?

        Lastly, I doubt the credibility of the author and of the other comments writers to make judgments about Philippine Cinema, or the art of film, to begin with. To put it simply, how much movies have you seen to begin with?

        (If so, why not weigh local cinema by the standards of time-tested greats such as Bertolucci, Allen, Kubrick, Coppola, Welles, Kurosawa, De Sica, and others–instead of making comparisons from nothing?)

        1. You assume that I only watch hollyweird which is getting weirder. I have not even seen ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and no, I will never see it. I wrote that based off my friend’s observation. I cited that film because I believe it’s most familiar to a lot here. I know many, but they’re obscure, and they’r not worth the mention. To begin with, and again I’ll say this, I haven’t watched in cinema houses on Hollywood films since 2001 (with the exception of TDK).

          I have mentioned before (in another post) that my family doesn’t like to watch the crap of hollywood from the ones made since the last decade. As you know, I have mentioned in another post by Ilda that I watch just as diverse, even more other world films than Hollywood films.

          How much films I’ve seen? Well, I can’t count, sorry, a lot of them, but I like to mention some favourite filmmakers/ films of mine: Andrei Tarkovsky (Solyaris, Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Childhood, The Mirror), I watch Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line), I love Victor Erice’s ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ (reminds me a bit of my childhood); other films like ‘The Lives of Others’, Spanish films like ‘Camino’ and ‘Volver’ are very relatable to me, and I like ‘The Breakfast Club’ because I share their trauma of highschool life, I don’t like Scorsese, but I like ‘Raging Bull’, Coppola (not his daughter)is one of my favourites and it’s in our family tradition to watch The Godfather trilogy at least once a year, I like Elia Kazan’s ‘On The Waterfront’, I like Robert Bresson (because of that holy mystery that surrounds his films), Charlie Chaplin, Yasujiro Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story’, for historical filmmaking my favourite is Ken Loach along with Peter Kosminsky (The Promise, Warriors), there are so many to count.

          Now, I am able to watch these films because of their accebility (they’re featured in a multicultural channel, JB-HI FI stores, friends who lend me their copies and recommendation). Filipino films I’ve seen from a family friend: ‘Anak’ ‘The Caregiver’ ‘Ang Cute Ng Ina Mo’ ‘Jose Rizal’ ‘Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Liwanag’ a bit of ‘Bagong Buwan’. Then, when I was little, I got glimpses of these crappola of action films rerun in TV (because that’s all for me to see when it comes to our cinema).

          Now, these films have given me insights on why it’s unnerving to watch our films dealing with serious, socially relevant issues.
          First, I looked at Bagong Buwan. Now, the beginning was promising, but then it slid down to didacticism, which killed character and sense of catharsis in the plot for me, and I just couldn’t go on watching this film when all this Montano actor ever does is to ram me and enumerate as if I don’t know how much these people suffered. It is this misconstrued portrayal of the ‘other’ (read Edward Said on this in ‘Orientalism’…what the hell do we know about the real psyche of our muslim people?) that I am most discouraged of in watching our films depicting the marginalised. This is as comparable as watching a laughable Australian film called ‘Jedda’ (1955), which was ‘supposedly’ giving a fair perspective on the Aboriginal Australians, but ended up being blatantly offensive (a white man painting his skin black? laughable) and disrespectful in its inaccuracy and ‘exotification’ of their culture and people, just so it will be part of that package of ‘defining’ Australianess to the whole world. Get my drift now? That is also what I have sensed looking at Brillante Mendoza’s trailers and subject matters he’s dealt with (and look, someone I know has seen one of his films, and discouraged me of my curiosity over this filmmaker), and then package these films to represent ‘modern’ filipinos. Now, why can’t just some filmmaker make a film not based off his perception on the ‘other’ making sensationalist schtick about it, and instead make a story based off his life, friends, people he’s surrounded with and lived with all his life. I’ve met up with orphans when I was seven and twelve years old because it was a school trip. Now, just because I happened to have talked to a 4 year old girl who said she came from the mountain somewhere off in Cebu (where I used to live), doesn’t mean that I conclude i know her life completely about her, her attitudes, her personal thinking, any sense that i can make up based on our conversation.Even 4 year olds are more complex than that. They have as much complex characteristics as mine, and they all can’t be lumped the same as others (like how SBS world media would like to portray the filipino people) Also, DON’T assume that I am a privileged one because I spent my 14 years of life in a cramped apartment, living with 3 other siblings, a mother who’s a teacher in highschool (who’s paid so little) and an angsty father who’s a lawyer (and is so frustrated with the job), and who, after those years of working for corrupted people and dysfunctional system, they made the effort of getting the hell out of the country to secure their children’s future. Now, if my story was made into a film by one of our local filmmakers, I could imagine the assurance of exaggerations, melodrama, more tears if not saying things aloud, make it seem that we’re completely devoid of familial quirks, humour and sarcasm, portray the mother as a nagger and the father passive/ or perhaps someone dysfunctional in character also…so all these qualities that would make up the reality of the hardworking poor for this filmmaker (I have Anak and The Caregiver in mind). And then package this to the worldwide cinema and make this the stamp of who we are as a nation. It’ll sure be a success, especially with those European film cineastes who deliciously devour this ‘image’ of us because it makes this country, exotic. Tropical country, slums, promiscuity, controversial= the exotic.

          I would like to see someday a little demonstration of our dysfunctional culture like in a school environment. In my experience, teachers need to update their views and methods, bullying is still tolerated by teachers and counsellors; some counsellors are just as emotionally immature as the problematic students, the issue of groupthink, conformity, question anything to do with identity and belonging. A satire would be applicable here, and that’s my suggestion. Look, I won’t insist these filmmakers to stop what they’re doing, but no one should stop consumers like me to demand for other better more rounded representations of us.

          P.S. I have stopped watching films made today from any country, and my real interest now are historical and cultural documentaries. I just would like to clarify that many of us cannot see nor embrace these one-sided representations of our people, and i wish to see diversity and better storytelling in film.

    2. That’s what I’m saying – the mindset of these filmmakers, well, some or most of them, is wrong. Demonizing the elite is another part of the movement which helps reinforce poverty in our country. That’s why I wrote this article. If the elite are blamed, then at least show how they should be, perhaps an alternative elite, to show how things should be made right.

      1. Unless you can even show me WHICH SCENES from WHICH FILMS lack nuance and center merely on one-dimensional victim blaming, then I’ll never believe in a thesis of your film.

        Haven’t you heard of CITATION? They teach it to COLLEGE FRESHMEN.

        We live in the period of high modernism/postmodernism. It’s hard to believe that regressive vehicles of propaganda can make be hailed as cinematic art. Unless, you know, you can actually show WHICH FILMS are actually like that.

    3. This idea that the “elite” are necessarily “our oppressors” is the typical sort of notion that is ingrained in the Filipino psyche by decades of victim mentality indoctrination.

      Consider that the first Chinese immigrants into the Philippines held even lower statuses than these supposedly “oppressed” Pinoys. They were looked down upon as lowly balut vendors ahd shoe salesmen. Sweet revenge nga naman talaga. Today it is the wretched Pinoy who owes the descendants of these Chinese immigrants truckloads of money and drool over the imported products they trade by the containerload in these sad islands.

      Perhaps, rather than encourage Pinoys to pity themselves for being such an “oppressed” lot, why don’t we ingrain an ethic that encourages them to step up to challenges and compete.

      And that, I believe, is the message of this blog post. Rather than the elite “coming down from their hill”, why not encourage the poor and “oppressed” to step up.

  3. Victim mentality, like sex, sells in the Philippines. You’ve just highlighted the narrow band that describes the full scope of the imagination of Da Pinoy, Chino. Pinoy movies reflect a society that prefers to embrace losers and demonise winners.

  4. As with BoyKidlat’s case, I’m also sick of “poverty porn”.

    To make a good story starring a member of the elite as the protagonist, painful research about the psyches of himself and every other character to be involved must be taken. Not all rich people are greedy. Not all poor people are underdogs, salivating at the sight of anything that costs money.

    The quote “politics make strange bedfellows” might apply here. A member of the elite teaming up with an impoverished person is no problem to me, as long as they discuss various issues heart-to-heart before they start “the change” in the system they desire. Of course, heads will roll once the ugly truths are brought out, but the team of diverse people will survive as long as they’re not losing sight of their common goal: the defeat of the ultimate metaphysical evil. That’s what I’ve learned from playing so many RPG’s.

    As a closing remark (quoting Final Fantasy IV’s final boss, Zeromus): “As long as there is evil in people’s hearts, I [taking into context the concentrated metaphysical evil that makes the Philippines sick, and not some person] will return.”

  5. It’s a simple enough suggestion. Why not simply take it? Chino doesn’t need to pepper his article with citations because he’s not out to show off. He’s merely offering a suggestion, a simple yet brilliant one.

  6. It is a good idea and if possibly so better yet put up a films that shows the “Elite” groom these “ordinary” people (no pun intended) to be a better person in society… What I mean is that a movie that depicts the cooperation of the elite and the commoner to improve society as a whole… This is quite the opposite of what is shown on films and drama(bloody overrated ones) here in the Philippines… Spot on post anyway, our films states problems but not offering solutions…

    1. Hey I’ve read about Joanna Hogg’s film in a magazine. Very interesting, though. Like this British editor said that having watched it came to him like an elephant sitting in [his] room. I believe that our local media industry NEVER want to show another group people, who aren’t extravagantly, crookedly rich nor downtrodden weak poor. You know that’s going to destroy/ break the status quo- it’ll be something too powerful and confronting seeing hardworking, thinking middle class folk not appearing so helpless onscreen, and when confronted with problems, they don’t back down easily. I swear, some of these filmmakers are just afraid to portray their real status in society because that’s neither going to get recognition abroad nor here among the general public- it won’t make money. I mean, look at Malaysia’s Yasmin Ahmad. She made a film called, ‘Sepet’, which portrayed that middle class (some lower middle class) Malaysians, and they talk so interestingly (speaking mostly english rather fluently) and behave like they’re not in a stage play or something. It’s quite flawed, but the main actors and actresses are relatable to me- the way they behaved reminded me of some people here. Even their faces seem familiar to me, as if almost close to home. And this film did not even hit Malaysian cinemas until much later on because its portrayals of Malaysian life onscreen were very unorthodox. Unfortunately, this filmmaker passed away, and I’ve been thinking- can we have an intellectual dabble in filmmaking? Take for example Peter Kosminsky who has a degree in history. That background has helped him portray history onscreen so amusing and convincing in his attention to the details of events, which of course, shows how he made so much research in his projects for accuracy (he made his TV series The Promise for 7 years). The problem in our film industry is that there are no smart people making films. And when I say smart I mean those that have enough sophistication and wisdom to fill in that void in our empty cinema. I hope I am clear on this, and this is why I’m encouraging my brother to major in a humanities subject before dabbling into filmmaking, because I believe it has a lot of benefits for perhaps making more interesting subject matter.

  7. Odd though, my friends from the “elite” don’t look like the “elite” portrayed in Philippine movies. Some are of Spanish descent, but they don’t make a big deal out of it. Some are of Chinese descent, but they’d rather identify themselves as Igorots. Some are babacnangs, but are so low key that they won’t stand out in a rice field.

    I have 2 mates who are Old Filipinos (descended from Americans who have settled in the Philippines in colonial times), and they are the nicest folks ever. Decent members of their barangay who had the bad luck to be demonized by Manila-based writers.

    Then there are the intellectual elite who are not at all the stuffy, book-bound, office/library monkeys so common in Filipino films. My intellectual friends go out to cañaos, eat dog meat, and earn tribal tattoos while eradicating ignorance among the hill tribes.

    So yeah, the elite are given a bum deal by the movie industry, and the latter spread the kamangmangan.

  8. At Christy and the other critics:
    How lofty of you to criticize Pinoy films without even watching them. Read Christy’s list of films watched: none of them Pinoy And when she cites Pinoy films…”Anak??” She and her family havent watched a single ‘hollyweird’ movie since 2001? And in those years, how many filipino films has she seen, how many filipino film festivals? Anybody heard of The Arrival, Namets, Lasponggols, Tsardyer? No? None of these are ‘poverty porn.’
    You’re the people who sniff, moan, scoff, raise eyebrows and complain why Mr Sy has not been lionized yet, him pa naman being the father of the labor-friendly contractual/no benefits system of hiring – and yet when a good pinoy film comes along, none of you are there to watch it.
    as Sgt Barnes of Platoon (a film which I worked on) would say: “I shit on all of you.”

    1. Hmm, good point about Mr. Sy. He should be shown positively in a movie. One which shows people like him using their competence and rising to the top instead of going emo and sniveling for dole-outs. He used his coconut shell, and that should be an example Filipinos should be taught to emulate.

    2. You mentioned ‘Tsardyr’. Talk about a piece of art (and I really mean shit). I can judge whatever I like about our cinema because, really, the crap that’s fed to me here overseas is what is most accessible to me. I am not some film elitist that I can just spend my legs and money to go to every film festival. I have life- I work part time and I study full time, all I ask, and I am just an average film viewer from time to time is that I be entertained enough to judge a film that is most accessible to me to be something that doesn’t insult my intelligence. And that includes looking at people acting as if they’re not in a student play and a reasonable narrative to compel me to even finish them through.

      Filmmaking ain’t a fundraising project where I can just spend and watch anything, even when it’s blatantly crap or so-so (that you all call it excellent), in order to supposedly support the failing local film industry. And why is the post above not reading properly? I have just mentioned that I’ve made attempts to finish through two films that I’ve specified, and I can say that there are just so many scenes to those films where things, situations are just so overly done that they just altogether killed the tension and therefore the stories that would have been compelling for ME.

      P.S. Why are these filmmakers and film fans so zealous and borderline defensive when a few point out what they don’t like about our local cinema? Thank goodness you’re not in politics, because some of you are all acting as if i should be a good comrade and just feed on the things that you would force me to think are good and right- according to consensus. This site is the only site where it offers me an alternative perspective of things, which I cannot agree in all others that deal with the same issues.

      1. Because you’re criticize a subject you, as you admitted yourself, have little knowledge of. Criticism of Filipino Movies in General, from a person who admittedly have not watched a single Filipino movie since 2001? Criticism about Filipino indie films from people who haven’t watched a single indie film? Kinda b*lls*it don’t you agree? Simple as that.

        1. Just because I haven’t seen a lot of Filipino movies doesn’t take away my right of criticising the film industry. It’s free speech and it’s pro democratic of me to express my view that the sea of films coming out are not honest and are devoid of knowing how to respresent social classes on-screen well. Perhaps I should have simplified it down for you that philippine film industry want to reflect their warped version of the real people. They want to paint smutty,slurry, undignified, simplistic mindededness on filipino people be it someone from a poor or wealthy background. But may be you’re offended because you must have related with some characters i’ve just summed up for you as despicable? Can you relate with the mistress characters that are so far being touted as ‘heroines’ in these recently made films? Why should you insist that I be content with simplistic childish and vulgar characters and stories that supposedly represent me as your target viewer? Go on pushing on others here with your blind love for the oh so grand filipino film industry (like really?). Cheers.

  9. We already have an entire genre that concentrates on the doings of the well-off: they’re called ‘telenovela’.

    1. Plus most mainstream films already have the elite as the ‘bidas’. Kinda shows the lack of knowledge these whiners, este, writers have.

      1. You mean the caricatures of them. So you’re mad because we’re still unfairly represented on-screen and then you want others to see that we’re all dysfunctional, unhappy, and have no sense of rich values. I can say the same with how you portray poor people like less than human beings- just props to your ‘art’. I can see now that a lot of these working in the film industry are obviously pushing an agenda to further reinforce dysfunctionality and failogic in which you lot all glorify in order to keep us under your noses. The films are not only irresponsible they are more soulless than emptiness. Cheers.

    2. So do middle class really act like they’re brain dead? Do they all look like half whities? Do they spend their time crying 24/7 out of boredom? You’re still proving what the author’s been pointing out.

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