Photo grabbed from Si Chedeng at si Apple’s Facebook page
Photo by Carlo Tabije
Text by John Patrick Manio
The Cinema One Originals Film Festival celebrates its 13th year with the tagline: “Walang Takot.” Nine feature films were showcased in the Narrative Feature Category of the competition under this theme.
In line with the theme, a timely issue to explore would be about the courage and fearlessness of coming-out in a heteronormative society.
One film that piqued the interests of many filmgoers was “Si Chedeng at Si Apple”, a film by Fatrick Tabada and Rae Red, who achieved previous success and fame earlier this year with “Patay na si Hesus”. A road movie which uses travel to encourage self-discovery, Patay Na Si Hesus, also fearlessly transgresses against societal expectations and tradition for self-realization.
Si Chedeng at si Apple, however, focused on gender, narrating the plight of a late-of-age woman who never truly expressed her sexuality to the public—all in a dark-comedic approach. It follows the titular Chedeng (played by Gloria Diaz) as she searches for her long-lost love, Lydia, whom she let go during her youth in fear of society’s judgement. With her is Apple (played by Elizabeth Oropesa), who is the only one aware of her sexuality apart from Lydia and is on the run from authorities after she killed her abusive husband in self-defense.
The current generation is fortunate that the awareness for LGBTQIA+ rights and its acceptance in society is growing. The youth is now, slowly but progressively, gaining freedom to express their sexuality–a luxury that Chedeng and others back then had no access to.
Chedeng, a victim of temporal circumstance, was forced to remain silent due to the cultural climate of her times. It was only later in life that she finally had the courage to come out. This prolonged and agonizing hiding of one’s identity then becomes the film’s main thematic drive.
Looking at the external aspects of the film, meanwhile, also provides several points of discussion.
It is a curious point to ask why the leading star, Gloria Diaz, a beauty queen (with Elizabeth Oropesa also being one), took up the role of a lesbian, a direct opposition to the heteronormative implication of her title as ‘Miss Universe’. As in gender studies and queer theory, one’s gender is only constructed by society and the individual himself through the roles one perform and the language that shapes him.
And in Si Chedeng at Si Apple’s universe, Diaz the beauty queen was nowhere to be found.
The fascinating facet of Diaz’s role boosts the film’s hype due to it being divergent to gender roles. This is also why people with gendered roles and professions transitioning across genders were sensationalized by the media due to their former ‘masculine’ roles being deterred by their sexualities. There is something in these that begs the question.
The sensationalization of gendered roles of a ‘beauty queen’ and ‘action star’ converging with queerness asks how and why patriarchy and heteronormativity have assigned femininity to the beauty queen and masculinity to the action star in the first place. While Gloria Diaz the straight beauty queen in a queer role may seem to break gender roles, we must ask why society deems it to be so subversive in the first place.
To look at Elizabeth Oropesa’s character of Apple, on the other hand, is to scrutinize a different issue of a similar origin – the dominance of the abusive male and its oppression of the female.
The film has portrayed masculinity as antagonistic to the story, a mere secondary element. Apple, while not being queer, has been searching for a way to escape the oppressive patriarchal configurations she has had to live with, her abusive spouse in particular. Her chains are broken only after the murder of her abusive spouse and her refusal to be in a relationship with any other man, a considerable development on her character.
This is not to say that the death of the male is key to the emancipation of the female, but to position that the abusive tendencies of masculinity is only a symptom of a system of beliefs that has been ingrained in Philippine society: the patriarchy.
Patriarchy and its close relative, heteronormativity, leads to the systemic victimization of the queer and the female. Even cisgender males are adversely affected. Toxic masculinity and dominance are made prerequisite to legitimate manhood, imposing images of savagery and solitude on men.
And like the many people who have had enough of such a violent and limiting system, Chedeng and Apple chose to counter the patriarchy.
Their detachment to the rule of the male began when they cut off the literal phallic symbol of their oppression and repression–the penis of Apple’s husband. It is fully realized when the two then threw the severed member in the waters, carrying it with them in their journey–an effective running gag in the film as it shows how the duo trivializes such a morbid act.
Overall, ‘Walang Takot’ is realized not only with the actions and realization by the characters in the movie but with the filmmakers’ guts for creating a film that goes against patriarchal beliefs, leading to the emancipation of the marginalized and oppressed. And that, is truly fearless.