We have millions of overseas Filipino workers’ families contributing to the economy of malls, huge and small, across the country. The irony here is that these malls don’t even want to include in their cinemas the only OFW-oriented movie that made it to the Metro Manila Film Festival. I refer to the documentary gem entitled, “Sunday Beauty Queen.”
Director Babyruth Villarama shared the sad news with me during a radio interview I had with her over DWIZ’s “Global Pinoy.” In Bicol, not a single cinema would be showing the movie. Lead actor and authentic OFW, Leo Selomenio, whose organization, Global Alliance, stages the Sunday beauty pageants in Hong Kong, declined to accept an award from a local government official. “Why should I accept an award when even my own relatives in Iloilo cannot see the movie?” Yes, not one theater in Iloilo will be screening the movie.
The same is true of Ilocos Norte, despite the size of its OFW population in Hong Kong. If there was a province that can instantly relate to the lives of our OFWs in Hong Kong, it would be Ilocos Norte. Unfortunately, families of OFW would not be able to see the film. Villarama lists the reasons given by cinemas that have declined “Sunday Beauty Queen”: 1) It is a documentary; 2) The film does not feature any well-known, popular actors; and 3) It might not sell tickets.
I am saddened by such decisions because the film happens to be a good one. It deserves to be seen as an authentic portrayal of the lives of our OFWs in Hong Kong. It is also thought provoking, because one leaves the theater somehow affected by the intricate relationships between a Filipino domestic worker and her employers. They would also understand what it’s like to be torn between coming home “for good”, which is every OFW’s dream, or to stay behind and look for another employer within Hong Kong’s prescribed policy of 14 days.
One of the powerful scenes in the documentary was that of wealthy Chinese employer, Jack Soo, who was very sincere and emotional in talking about Mylyn, his caregiver. If only for that excerpt, this documentary needs to be shown and appreciated by all Filipinos.
The documentary includes the perspective of foreign employers, and I am amazed at how the director was able to persuade these Chinese employers to participate. We also get to see our OFWs in action, while at work, or as they bring their wards to school. Our OFWs talk candidly about the need to endure and the ties that bind them to their families back home are evident each time they talk about sacrifices. When I learned that this movie took four years to make, I was not surprised. Those four years of emotional and artistic investments gave the film a rich texture, a more authentic vibe.
Is it a depressing movie? No, it’s not. The beauty contests reveal the physical transformation, from the make-up to the gowns, and also include snippets of the usual intrigues present in such pageants. Why would any domestic worker spend her precious Sunday joining a beauty contest? Well, watch the movie and see that Leo’s team has tapped into a vein of escapism that has given some of our OFWs the Sundays of their dreams.
The documentary is rich in poignant moments. Those shots of the women packing up and gathering their things as they leave the pageant in order to make it home in time for curfew makes a viewer want to reach out and hug our OFWs. We enjoy our Sundays without having to think of a cut-off point for fear of job termination. In Hong Kong, an employer can terminate his or her contract with the domestic worker at any time, even for simply breaking curfew.
Watch the movie and spread the word so that others may watch it too. It is very rare that someone with the caliber of Babyruth Villarama and the production house that gave us Heneral Luna would make a film featuring our own OFWs. The film does not set out to demean them or exploit their journey. What I find demeaning is the behavior of theater owners who prefer to shun the movie because there are no popular stars in it. Shouldn’t they even consider showing the film as part of their corporate social responsibility for a sector that has been so helpful to their business?
“Sunday Beauty Queen” makes us think about the lives of domestic workers not just overseas, but here at home. Our own domestic workers have Sundays to be themselves, to celebrate their freedom, to enjoy not being called or made to care for others. This film will make us appreciate them more and serves to remind us about our responsibility for women caring for others before they care for themselves.