Philippine Movies: What Does It Mean For Our History?

Dec 11, 2015
heneral luna reaction paper
John Arcilla in Heneral Luna (2015). Artikulo Uno Productions.

History is a very vague subject that you can do countless stories and interpretations through any medium. It’s a subject that is easily misinterpreted throughout the years. An evidence as to why a lot of people, especially the young ones, still has a problem finding out why writer Apolinario Mabini was seated the whole time in the historical epic ‘Heneral Luna’. Mabini, as history books would recall was confined by polio on his older years, resulting to his inability to stand during the time period the film covers.

jose rizal reaction paper
Cesar Montano in Jose Rizal (1998). GMA Films

Aside from ‘Heneral Luna’, the Philippines’ entry to the Best Foreign Film category in Oscars 2016 about the life of General Antonio Luna, there has been quite a slew of releases that come out before which depicted several national heroes. But it’s not until 1999 since a film was nationally recognized from the history genre (with the exception of ‘Heneral Luna’) with the critically-acclaimed ‘Jose Rizal’ starring Cesar Montano as the titular hero. The film became a really big name by the time of its release that some schools are still opting to play it as a mandatory for history classes. Many studios tried to replicate its success that they would also produce historical biographies on their own, or simply the intention of having people pay to see an iconic story to the big screen because history is a big seller. There is a group of audience willing to line up for it, and the word of mouth to have more people draw in. But these films, although gets to the essence of the true story of the hero, was reportedly being too unrealistic not brave enough to unmask certain depths of the character included beneath the history books. 

el presidente reaction paper
Jeorge "ER" Estregan as Emilio Aguinaldo in El Presidente (2012). VIVA Films.

heneral luna reaction paper
Mon Confiado as Emilio Aguinaldo in Heneral Luna (2015). Artikulo Uno Productions.

Historians would easily nit-pick the mistakes of these films, and make the case that most of it are mere glorified fictional accounts of the hero rather than the multi-layered personality that person has. A very good instance is the way Emiliio Aguinaldo is portrayed in films 'El Presidente', 'Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo' and most recently 'Heneral Luna'. 'El Presidente', being a direct biography of Aguinaldo, showcases him as having cared too much on other people. 'Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo' makes him the antagonist of Andres Bonifacio, and have him play as having personal interest throughout and ordered the murder of Bonifacio. 'Heneral Luna', according to these historians, perfectly blends the flaws and traits of Aguinaldo very well, which resulted to a love-hate relationship with the audience. Luna’s director Jerrold Tarog states that “making a historical film should have a rounder portrait of the character. That there are no heroes nor villains in the story, just plain humans.”

In a study done by famous historian Renato Constantino, he repeatedly mentioned that the only way to unmask history is to remove everything colonizers (from Spanish up to Americans) have written about our history and tell it on the viewpoint of the normal people. There are no restrictions translating a colonized history book on film, but rest assured that the only account a lot of people will get afterwards are the ones that are embarrassing ploys by non-Filipinos.  He also said that true independence can only be achieved if we chose to ignore this colonized history or colonial scholarship. Movies are a different thing, but should be considered as one literary medium, in which you can build strong influence on it, partly because of the scope of its viewers.

paulo avelino del pilar
Paulo Avelino as Gregorio Del Pilar in Heneral Luna (2015). Artikulo Uno Productions.

The success of Jose Rizal and Heneral Luna both critically and financially proved the power of media to disclose certain details of the past. But as historians would suggest it, they are merely fictionalized imprints of what has been re-drawn before. This should be a lesson for future films of the same genre. Simply because facts are already being considered as fiction.    

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