Fade to Brown: Recasting the Role of #WalangHiya

Awkward but loyal stage manager Sunday La Paz (myself) talking with stressed out director Nigel (Paul Sobrie) in 2400 Miles Off Broadway (Dir. Taft S. Rector, 2016)

[D]ocumentaries counter the lies of dominant media by representing the eternal “other” – whether welfare mother, gay man, prisoner, sterilized woman, Vietnam veteran, Black activist – as concrete and comprehensible persons. By freeing such figures from the bonds of stereotyping, the documentary can recuperate them into boundaries of feasible identification and lessen the chance of objectification.” – B. Ruby Rich, 1998 [1]

Since I carried (then dropped) a camcorder on my brother’s fourth birthday party, I have been interested in film– as a creative medium, an apparatus to the human psyche, a documentation tool, a memory keeper. I’ve held various fulfilling, questionable, and downright exploitative jobs in the film world, from casting to craft services to stand-in to grip.

At 23 years old, I found a niche in producing, screenwriting, and acting.

Filipinx moms are known to subject their kids to anything to overcome shyness – singing, theater, altar serving . But  I went to theater school with a different intention. In first grade, Broadway-loving me brought home a form for Arts Education for Children’s Group (AECG), a summer drama camp. AECG was doing Oz!, a rendition of one of my favorite musicals, The Wizard of Oz, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Fast forward to actual summer camp and they cast me as the wizard. Brownie points for gender blind casting and giving me the opportunity to sport a green, sparkly tuxedo.

On opening night, six rows up, my family had a flower bouquet half my height and took an excessive amount of photos with me and the cast and crew. My family keeps all memorabilia from the shows I’ve been in. Newspaper clippings, the programs from the theater, videotapes, scripts. Relatives praised my developing talent through my parents with variations of “that’s good, she has no shame” and “she’s the next Lea Salonga.”

Walang Hiya was a main character in my childhood story.

Cut to high school.

Still continuing my theater trajectory, I ventured into film. I took video production classes, participated in film festivals, made cringey Youtube videos, and fell in love with The Criterion Collection. My family still brought flowers to my performances and I eagerly showed them my latest film. My parents even gifted me with my own camcorder my high school senior year.

As a child, I harbored sensitivity for not resembling and relating to movie characters and actors. Even though I experienced an entire spectrum of emotions watching my favorite movies, I couldn’t sympathize with the stories on screen. And as I read and researched about cinematic history, I realized it wasn’t a personal experience.

One of my favorite film scholars, B. Ruby Rich said that film, particularly documentaries, represented the “other” as “concrete and comprehensible persons,” but came with risks like “reducing history to an individual” and being rhetorical in nature like saying “women are just like us.”[1]

Rich’s work mostly examined feminist films, queer films, and Latin American films, but I could incorporate her theories into my own unique Fillipinx and queer analysis of film.  To name a few more theorists, Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze,”[2] Annamarie Jagose’s re-appropriation of the word “queer,”[3] and bell hooks “oppositional gaze,”[4] have molded me into the unashamed, defiant creator I am today.

(I am working on collecting as many film theory books as I can.)

There was a new lens added to what film could be: an advocate for diverse representation.

A tiny, dark-skinned, female, Filipinx first-grader playing the Wizard of Oz wasn’t an oddity in melting pot Maui. But the child actor card can’t be played anymore.

The arts became less of an extracurricular and more of a mission to be more inclusive in what stories I told and was a part of. But the more I created, the more shame I felt. I worked on projects promoting sex positive culture, LGBTQ+ rights, police reform, etc. My family isn’t ultra conservative but those issues weren’t adobo and rice family dinner topics.  They’d rather I return Dorothy to Kansas than act alongside a womxn as my love interest.

Scene change to the present.

I have stopped inviting Mom, Dad, and Mamang to see the finalized versions of my work and when they ask about my current projects, I provide vague details. Or guiltily say nothing.

I’m creating and sharing films, screenplays, performance art shame-free but I’m yearning and learning to embrace Walang Hiya in my family interactions and with those who don’t take concerns with media representation seriously.

For the time being, Walang Hiya will hold a supporting character role in my life.

This post is part of the Reclaiming #WalangHiya Project; see the landing page for more narratives.

Notes

1 Rich, B. R. Chick flicks: theories and memories of the feminist film movement. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004: 307-08.

2  Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 833-44.

3 Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

4 hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992. 115-31.


Queenelle Gazmen (she/her/hers) should be working on her screenplay about a group of queer womxn’s road trip down I-90. She’s not. She is a first-generation Filipinx American raised in Hawai’i and Washington. She’s a proud cinephile, though she favors animation, musicals, documentaries, and modernized adaptations. She’s worked with teams from Northwest Film Forum, Reel Grrls, Renton Film Frenzy, Children’s Film Festival Seattle, TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, and Seattle International Film Festival. Her non-film interests include Lego Minifigures, piano medleys, and DIY recycling projects. Besides teaching two-year-olds basic life skills, she is working on three scripts and does freelance film work around the Pacific Northwest. Instagram

 

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