The lives of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are not as easy as it looks—they leave their loved ones to work somewhere around the world, embrace foreign culture and sacrifice their own beliefs just so they can earn money and send it to their families back home.
Moreover, their remittances help the country’s economy remain afloat amid global financial crises. For these reasons, OFWs are heroes not just to their kin but to the country as well, making them worth of their label, mga bagong bayani (modern-day heroes).
As such, several movies had been made about OFWs including Caregiver, Anak, Edna and ‘Merika among others. But the lone documentary film in the 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival, Sunday Beauty Queen, seeks to implant a deeper understanding of modern heroes.
The weakness of the film is also its strength. No actors are employed but the impact goes straight to the heart as it offers real-life stories of real people. Unscripted with no special effects, this kind of film is a rare treat that that may just make viewers—even those who do not have any OFW in their family—change their perception about these modern-day heroes.
Four years in the making, writer-director Babyruth Villarama beautifully highlights the stories of domestic helpers in Hong Kong who work almost without sleep or rest from Mondays to Saturdays, and meet friends and compatriots only on Sundays. It’s on their day off that they organize and participate in transforming themselves into beauty queens and entertain their fellow Filipinos while raising funds for those who are in need of help among them.
The idea of pageants for some is possibly a waste of time, money and effort especially for low income earners like them, but it is a realization of Filipino strength and pride wherein through these kinds of entertainment, their longing to their families are pushed aside even just for a day.
Contrary to what other viewers perceive, watching this documentary will not offer dull moments—it will rather leave moviegoers laughing most notably during the times they are with their friends and among their large Filipino community. The documentary will also cause tears when these domestic helpers start sharing their struggles—sleeping in the kitchen or on the lounge room floor; getting terminated if they don’t get back at their employer’s home on their Sunday curfew; or being forced to eat food that are sometimes worse than the food of their employers’ dogs.
Emerging as Cinderellas of their own stories are Hazel Perdido, Mylyn Jacobo, Cherry Bretania, Leo Selomenio, and Rudelie Acosta —five women among thousands of OFWs in Hong Kong.
One of the most heartbreaking points in this documentary is Perdido watching her child’s graduation from her smartphone. While in tears, Perdido shares she has been working in Hong Kong for eight years and left her child in the Philippines when he was just a year-and-a-half old.
Selomenio, meanwhile, gives the film a lighter side. She is one of the lucky workers allowed by their employers to have their own place. On weekdays, after her morning till 7 p.m. shift, Selomenio supports other OFWs by finding them food, shelter, and even giving them advices. On Sundays, she organizes the beauty pageants where candidates vie for the crown.
By seeing how these Filipinos go about their lives as workers in a foreign country and how they find value in themselves through their organized beauty pageants, other Filipinos abroad can also build their self-esteem and stop labeling themselves as mere domestic helpers.
While Sunday Beauty Queen is just a glimpse of all the hardships and sacrifices OFWS go through for their families, the movie-going public’s patronization for this documentary should be a way to honor the country’s modern heroes.