Ten minutes into “Sunday Beauty Queen,” the first ever full-length documentary to land a coveted slot in this year’s list of films competing at MMFF, I was reminded of a certain Malu Fernandez’s condescending comments in a glossy magazine years ago of how she found herself to her chagrin in a long-haul economy flight amid noisy and presumably smelly OFWs. Wearing her Doña Buding hat, Fernandez tried in vain to sound cute and funny by complaining aloud of how her expensive Jo Malone fragrance instantly evaporated, as it was drowned out by the collective scent of OFWs wearing Axe and Charlie. For someone who wanted to slash her wrist during the flight to Dubai on her way to Greece, she “bravely” took the same route back to Manila with a different set of OFWs.
Needless to say, Malu ignited a firestorm of controversy with her comments. She was pilloried not only by OFWs themselves, but also by almost every Filipino with access to the Internet (back then, netizens were made up mostly of real people with real gripes and issues, and not by paid trolls propping up certain personalities). In short, she had it coming!
Had Malu seen “Sunday Beauty Queen” then, she probably wouldn’t have made those unfortunate and appalling observations of our OFWs. At best, she would have probably kept her comments to herself. Sure, they tend to be a bit noisy and excitable, as all Pinoys are whenever we are gathered at parties and confined spaces. Well, you would, too, if you were on the verge of seeing your family whom you haven’t seen in years, sometimes decades.
As if their heavy, checked-in balikbayan boxes are not enough, they also tend to occupy every available space in the plane’s overhead compartment, which, if you know where they’re coming from, is quite understandable. Having been deprived of seeing their family for long stretches of time, these people try to make up for their absence by showering them, especially their children, with all sorts of pasalubong, which in the age of globalization, are more likely readily available at our local malls.
But, as articulated in the film, nothing comes close to the feeling of fulfillment one gets in choosing the gifts yourself and lovingly packing them with other goodies before you send the box home or take it with you as you embark on your homecoming flight. It’s the very definition of love in action.
I have to commend people behind the documentary for training a light on our OFWs—their dreams, struggles, and cheap thrills as well as the constant discrimination and abuses they face. Through it all they never lost their compassion and humanity, and the ability to rise above it all. I’m pretty sure there are countless stories out there of our OFWs waiting to be told, but director Baby Ruth Villarama wisely chose to limit it by focusing on our love for beauty pageants. It’s more than just a national pastime and collective fascination for beautiful, made-up women wearing ornate dresses on stage per se.
As articulated in the film, the regular Sunday assemblies of mostly domestic helpers at Central in HK are merely backdrops. At the risk of violating their Sunday evening curfew, they join these day-long events not only to catch up with friends and engage in idle gossip. These beauty contests act as group therapy for everyone, contestant and mere spectator, from the drudgery of work. Best of all, they also double as a chance for them to reclaim their worth and express themselves before their personalities and very state of mind are completely subsumed by an impersonal system and strict, sometimes abusive employers.
I could just imagine the hours and rolls of film (or whatever they use these days) Villarama spent capturing, in the words of Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen, the “true essence” of these women, but as seasoned theater actor Audie Gemora so aptly put it, you simply “can’t make this (film) up.”
Imagine, even the call one maid received late at night informing her that her kind, elderly boss had passed away was filmed. In between her sobs, her boss’ daughter told her over the phone that she need not go anymore to the hospital.
It was simply heartbreaking. So, too, was one maid’s attempt to pack a door-to-door box with everything, including I (Heart) HK tees for her four “chikiting.” She couldn’t make it to her youngest son’s birthday, she said, but she managed to send her love just the same by way of a big box. You have to be made of stone not to tear up. Indeed, you have to be a Malu Fernandez to feel nothing but disdain toward these people. The only elements missing in the documentary were actual footages of indifference, discrimination, and abuses the women suffered. But their eyes, hand gestures, and unfiltered words are enough tell the entire story.
Inspired efforts like “Sunday Beauty Queen” deserves our support. Having no named stars and glossy sets to boast of, the documentary understandably trails most if not all of the competition. See it before theater owners, by way of another mindless Vic Sotto fantasy starrer, completely yank “Sunday Beauty Queen” off our midst.