*thought of being academic today. hehehe
Many will agree that homosexuality is as old as human history. Nonetheless, societal acceptance is still yet to be fully achieved. Homosexuals are still considered taboo and social deviants, liable for social discrimination and punishment in many cultures. But through modernity, that made the flow of information seemed borderless and endless, there were various attempts, hundreds or even thousands if I may say, that made the reclaiming of the so-called homosexual space in the society, which is basically, not mere tolerance but more of acceptance, possible. And the power of film has been considered as one of the most effective tools in sending over the message of acceptance in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
Gay films or gay cinema are theatrical films that deal with or feature important gay, lesbian or bisexual characters or issues and may have same sex romance or relationships as an important plot device.
Gay films are not something new in Philippine Cinema. In fact, as early as the 1950s, Filipino moviegoers are already familiar and patronizing gay-themed movies. Perhaps, the two most popular Filipino actors under this genre would be Dolphy and Roderick Paulate.
Dolphy, who is considered as one, or if not, the most popular Filipino actor, have successfully portrayed various gay roles in the history of Philippine Cinema, considering the conservatism of his time. He have done a number of gay films which include: Jack en Jill (1954), Susanang Daldal (1962), Pepe en Pilar (1966), Kangkarot (1969), Facifica Falayfay (1969), Karioka Etchos de America (1971), Fefita Fofonggay viuda de Falayfay (1973), Sarhento Fofonggay (1974), Jack ‘n Jill of the Third Kind (1979), Ang Tatay kong Nanay (1978), Darna, Kuno? (1979) and Markova Comfort Gay (2000).
He is later succeeded by Roderick Paulate, who also starred in a surprising number of well-acclaimed gay films such as Charot (1984), Hee Man, Master of None (1984), Inday Bote (1985), Praybet Depektib Akademi (1986), Inday Inday sa Balitaw (1986), Ako si Kiko, Ako si Kikay (1987), Binibining Tsuper-Man (1987), Jack En Poy, Hale-Hale Hoy (1987), Mga Anak ni Facifica Falayfay (1987), Kumander Gringa (1987), Leroy Leroy SInta (1988), Me & Ninja Liit (1988), Petrang Kabayo at ang Pilyang Kuting (1988), Penoy… Balut (1988), Gorio en Tekla (1989), and Bala at Lipstick (1994).
Although the introduction of the gay man’s roles in Philippine cinema, among those of Dolphy’s and Roderick Paulate’s movies could be considered as important and pivotal points in introducing homosexuality in the traditional and conservative Philippines, it could not be denied that their movies were more of a tragedy despite its comic entry. Because of such movies, Filipino gay men were not well presented. It is prevalent during those times, that gay men were stereotyped as loud screamers, ridiculously effeminate, absurd speaking and colorful cross dressers (transvestism). Incidentally, the gay movie characters were stagnated in comedy films and never developed. Thus, it was inevitable for Filipinos, specifically movie goers, to imprison and stereotype gay men as subject of laughing stocks and targets of ridicule, just some of the reasons why gay men then hid their true identities inside the closets for fear of discrimination.
But during the 1990s, there were several attempts in changing the single image of the Filipino gay man, being the screaming, effeminate and cross dressers, which are typically associated with the so-called parlorista gays to various images. But this shift did happen gradually. A number of efforts in searching and establishing the multiplicity of gay men’s images in the Philippines was made and the films Sibak: Midnight Dancers (1994) and Miguel/Michelle (1994) were among those that introduced some terms such as transexuality and transgender. Subsequently, another image of the Filipino gay man was formed, one which was almost similar to heterosexual men. In the films like Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (1997), Pusong Mamon (1998) and Paraiso ni Efren (1999), gay characters or roles were no longer generally depicted under the stereotyped image of parlorista, rather their looks, behaviors and actions shown were almost synonymous to a typical heterosexual man. From these, a larger amount of male homosexuals was able to relate and associate themselves toward these characters, especially among urban areas in the country, making it easier to come out.
On the other hand, during this period as well, most gay-themed films were chained within the boundaries of commercial sex. In other words, gays were then associated and stereotyped again differently with buying love and/or sex from heterosexual men among gay bars and other establishments. Such issues were prevalent in the movies Sibak: Midnight Dancer (1994) and Burlesk King (1999), which basically followed the tradition of Lino Brocka’s Macho Dancer (1998).
New millennium came and another genre created a trend in the course of Philippine Cinema, Independent or popularly known as Indie Films. Indie films started surprising and reopening Filipino moviegoers with more daring and challenging issues such as poverty and social deviances. Issues that the popular or mainstream cinema often or would hesitant to tackle, one of which is gay issues.
Perhaps, some of the first and most successful gay indie films were Cris Pablo’s popular works, which would include Duda/Doubt (2003), Bilog (2005), Bathhouse (2005) and Moreno (2007). Here, Pablo had successfully changed the image of gay men away from the stereotyped parlorista as depicted by Dolphy and Roderick Paulate in their movies and the commercial gay roles of the 90s. He introduced a diverse and deeper sense of relationships among gay men and also started revealing the various establishments most homosexuals engage into, in order to realize their individualities and needs. He highlighted the presence of gay cinema houses, bath houses/spas, bars and the use of various modern devices such as the Internet, where gay men could actually meet and actualize their sexualities, without monetary reciprocation.
Eventually, this triggered a surprising wave of indie films makers to follow. Brillante Mendoza (Masahista, 2005), Adolfo Alix Jr. (Day Break, 2008), Paolo Villanueva (Selda, 2007), Joselito Altajeros and Lex Bonifed (Lalaki sa Parola, 2007; Kambyo, 2008; Lihim ni Antonio, 2008; and Little Boy, Big Boy, 2009), to name a few. Aside from various international film festival recognitions and awards, gay indie films also gained a wide audience from both heterosexual and homosexual viewers. These made mainstream film makers and producers to see a viable market among gay themed films. Thus, commercial film invasion and the redefinition of gay indie film were expected to follow.
Commercialization brought and highlighted several issues among gay indie films. First, the bastardization of the male body as the primary vehicle in selling the movie, instead of the body as a crucial subject in exploring one’s sexuality and identity. Second, reducing the image of gay men to mere sexual subjects and its effect in attaining societal or national acceptance. And lastly, its effects to gay indie film in terms of its aesthetical production.
Although sexual images or scenes were also present among earlier gay indie films, it could not be denied that due to the uncertainty of possible viewership during that time, gaining profit was still not the main purpose of producing these films. Rather, it could be viewed that such images and scenes were important elements in the movie to highlight how repression pushes individuals to look for other means and devices to satisfy their needs and identities in an environment where their sexuality are considered as taboo and immoral. In other words, a homosexual is believed to be alienated with his/her body because of various external or social repressions.
Nonetheless, due to emergence of an alarming number of gay indie films that rampantly focuses on scenes of men having sex with each other, the story and the intentions of it become suspicious. Most gay indiefilms could already be considered as mere pornography, hiding underneath the cloak of an art or an indie film just to sell. In effect, it is possible that a society will view gay men, basing from how films depict gay realities, as mere sexual objects, slaves to their own desires and not entitled with acceptances.
Many believe that the main reason of homophobia is anchored upon the irrational fear of heterosexuals that homosexuals will sexually attack them. Thus, if gay indie films will keep on producing sexually themed rather than gay themed films, acceptance and the elimination of homophobia will never be actualized.
But not all gay indie films suffered from these loopholes. In 2005, Auraeus Solito released Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, that gave moviegoers a breath of fresh air against the rampant and tiring sex and flesh ordeal present in most gay indie films. He depicted the naiveness and ignorance of a young gay boy in understanding and accepting his sexuality, despite the corrupting poverty surrounding him. The movie also transgressed over the homosexual picture by immersing in the lives of the heterosexual characters in the movie. It redefined the concept of machismo by putting three very manly
characters, Maximo’s father and brothers, in the plot to be accepting and protective over Maxi, a rare picture in a patriarchal family. Nonetheless, the film didn’t make Maxi as weak and ever dependent to other people. In fact, as the film rolled, one will realize that the supporting actors were actually the ones who were dependent on him and not the other way around, an interesting twist every gay indie film should atleast have and/or should be.
As one of my professors used to say, “Set the stakes higher.” If Filipino gay indie filmmakers want to make and keep the genre rolling, one should not stagnate himself from the superficial call of his/her market and to the fed up “titillating” sex scenes. S/he has to continue enriching the genre by devising and thinking “fresher” means, strategies and stories that would keep its flame burning, that would offer various tastes to the unending crave of moviegoers. And above all, a gay indie film maker should always consider bringing it back to his characters, the gay men, by creating films that would make people understand and accept; and not just to satisfy their petty sexual pleasures.
*special thanks to coach. hahaha!