The (mis)representation of Indigenous People in mainstream media 


THE IMMENSE portrayal of the indigenous people (IP) in mainstream media, especially film and television, open varying perspectives to arise.

Exposing IPs to mainstream media has gained recognition because there are many patronizers. However, it can also mean disruption when their culture is misrepresented and utilized for mere entertainment. 

“There are both positive and negative representations. And mostly those shows in popular culture with positive representation or more progressive representations of our indigenous people are usually based on historical facts,” Assoc. Prof. Wennielyn Fajilan from the UST Department of Filipino told The Flame.

“Most representations that connote negative representations of our indigenous people are just reproducing the stereotypes that we all know in the 1950s, 1960s,” Fajilan added.

She stressed the importance of the appropriate portrayal of the indigenous culture in media to avoid “further discrimination” about their poor living conditions. 

“We have to be vigilant in representing our indigenous [people] so that we will not help in discriminating against them and further giving difficulty in their life,” Fajilan said.

Former Director of the UST Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities, and Associate Editor of UNITAS Prof. Joyce L. Arriola, PhD, echoed Fajilan’s understanding that indigenous people have been misrepresented in film and television for decades now. 

Arriola added, “Allowing for the indigenous voice to persist could be one of the more important creative strategies the film and television artists may take. An example is hiring IP actors themselves and letting them present their narratives.” 

Fajilan also said that proper promotion of their culture might be beneficial to the economic well-being of Indigenous Peoples (IPs).

“If we can recognize the beauty of our indigenous group in terms of the material culture or language, culture, and their landscape, we can boost their tourism, we can boost our economy,” she said.

To strengthen her point, Fajilan used Catriona Gray as an example in helping to “popularize” the T’nalak weaving of the T’boli tribe in Miss Universe by bringing attention to its “beauty and history” globally.  

Not for comedy 

Even though introducing indigenous languages into mainstream media has positive results, problems that affect their daily lives still persist.

Assoc. Prof. Myra De Leon, also from the Filipino Department, observed how some films portrayed characters speaking Visayan accents as a “platform for comedy.”

It has misguided the people to understand the importance of their “unique indigenous cultures and knowledge systems.”

“At first, this seemed to be entertaining, but as the banter got serious—there were hittings on the head, repetition of the mispronounced words to put the character to shame,” De Leon said.

Similarly, Fajilan also deemed that the use of non-Tagalog languages had been shown on television as humorous, which she believes is promoting “bigotry” against IPs.

She mentioned cliché TV characters like “drivers, housemaids, and ignorant people” who often speak Tagalog with a Visayan accent.

“The innocent lass from Visayas will be victimized when she goes to Luzon and be employed as a house help,” Fajilan said, illustrating a non-Tagalog speaker stereotype in mainstream media. 

Are representations enough? 

Although Arriola believes that IPs should be portrayed ““in a very respectful way,” she added that there are more things beyond representations. 

“Apart from better and authentic representation is walking the talk about caring for the Indigenous Peoples, providing for their livelihood and safety, protecting their ancestral domain and teaching students in the proper treatment and care of our indigenous brothers as well,” Arriola said. 

Filipino professors Fajilan and De Leon stressed the role of the government in implementing laws that will protect the indigenous languages and traditions, and move them away from “awful” conditions.

Citing the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997, Fajilan said the “accuracy of cultural representations” clause should be the basis for the censorship decisions of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

“(If optimized), we can develop a community that is multiculturally engaged,” Fajilan said.

Arriola also urged the government to have “more economic opportunities and more attention to their waves of migration into the cities—tracing the roots and origins of their displacement—and more support and budget allocation should be afforded to the Commission on Indigenous Peoples.”

“It should not be taken from the people or converted to a place which will just be beneficial to the few,” De Leon said while stating the equal importance of Ancestral Domains.

Proclamation 1041, which the late former president Fidel Ramos signed in 1997, mandates the annual observation of Buwan ng Wika in August to promote the national language to every Filipino. F – Jasmine Mae Alarde and Eduardo Fajermo Jr. 

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