Filipina directors and actors have been making waves on the international festival circuit in recent years, but even locally, women have always played an active role in shaping Philippine cinema. In fact, some of the biggest and most established contemporary names in the film industry are women, such as film studio matriarch "Mother" Lily Monteverde and box office hitmakers Joyce Bernal and Cathy Garcia-Molina.
Despite the presence of women in the Philippine film industry, we still have a long way to go before achieving actual gender equality and justice, as this necessitates eradicating the roots of patriarchy. But while it’s a work in progress, here are some movies by Filipina directors you can watch online to celebrate the victories of the women’s movement, express solidarity, and empower ourselves for the greater fight ahead.
Leonor Will Never Die (2022)
Martika Ramirez Escobar
Need we say more? This Sundance-winning film is an audacious concoction of Filipino movie genres and tropes, with Ramirez Escobar skillfully mixing crime, comedy, family drama, and musical with a dash of magical realism.
Leonor Will Never Die tells the story of a retired screenwriter who revisits a script from her younger years and finds herself dragged into her own story, among the action stars, leading ladies, and kontrabidas of her making. While refusing to be put in a box, Leonor Will Never Die is, at its heart, an endearing homage to classic Filipino action films.
Escobar and producer Monster Jimenez talked about the hurdles they faced from making the film to finding distribution in Creative Futures 2022.
Leonor Will Never Die is now streaming on Netflix.
Female lead characters have always been prominent in Filipino films, but to this day, women are still mostly portrayed within traditional roles that reinforce and perpetuate unequal gender dynamics. Helmed by National Artist Marilou Diaz-Abaya with a screenplay by Ricky Lee, Brutal is among the first of its kind to depict women beyond their assigned societal roles and give them agency on screen.
Described as the “first Filipino movie to tackle rape as a feminist issue,” Brutal places three completely different women in the context of the Philippine patriarchal society. At the center of it all is Monica, raised in a conservative household and forced to marry her rapist who commits triple murder against her husband and his two friends.
Brutal is available on JuanFlix, the Film Development Council of the Philippines' (FDCP) online streaming platform.
Sunday Beauty Queen (2016)
Baby Ruth Villarama
Sunday Beauty Queen is a heartwarming documentary that follows the lives of five Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong as they prepare for an annual beauty pageant. Through the lens of director Baby Ruth Villarama, Sunday Beauty Queen zooms in on the daily routines, relationships, and aspirations of these women, while at the same time situating them in a larger community both inside and outside the filmic space—that of the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who face precarious working conditions in hopes of giving their families back home a better life.
With this intimate and nuanced portrait of Filipino migrant workers, we get to see people with their own hopes and dreams, beyond numbers and sensationalized stories, as Villarama had hoped.
Sunday Beauty Queen is available on Netflix and YouTube.
Nanay Mameng (2012)
Carmen Deunida, widely known as Nanay Mameng, was a beloved urban poor champion who, despite passing in 2021, lives on through her contributions to the Philippine mass movement. With its simple and straightforward storytelling, Nanay Mameng immortalizes the eponymous activist, whose unrelenting and fiery spirit burned through one failed administration after another.
By letting Nanay Mameng herself take us on her journey as a woman who experienced poverty throughout her lifetime, director Adjani Arumpac and Kodao Productions are able to paint a solid picture of an underlying societal system that has only nurtured inequality and injustice with every change of administration.
Nanay Mameng is available on YouTube.