by LILA F. MORTEL
BEFORE OLIVIA Rodrigo and Heart Evangelista, we had Imelda Marcos. As a dictator’s wife and a beauty in her own right, she shocked the international community with her shoes, personality, and most, unfortunately, indiscretions.
With news features of her ostentatious lifestyle came criticism from all forms, some in the form of ridicule such as modern iterations like Netflix’s The Crown to lesser-known skits from SNL and On the Television’s “Our Maid Imelda” episode.
The portrayal of Imelda Marcos in this medium was flat-out racist. It was not right she was portrayed as a maid to be ridiculed, a hysterical woman, or a socialite with a ‘funny’ accent.
There are Filipina women who are not Imelda that may be subjected to this ridicule, and at the end of the day, Imelda remains a socialite while everyday Filipinas carry that stereotype with them.
On a personal note, I experienced this stereotyping in New Zealand; it was as subtle as being called “exotic” for my accent to my white ex-partner being ‘warned’ against me as a foreigner with no permanent residency, by fellow Filipinos no less. Although I don’t blame media representation it definitely didn’t help.
With the ever-rising liberalization of the world comes the observation of our culture and, in extension, our women. When we portray Filipinas like the international media portrayed Imelda, we are causing harm not to Imelda but to everyday Filipinas.
Even today, Filipinas are not being given the consideration they should have in the media, ultimately causing harm and welcoming misogyny.
“90-Day Fiancee,” a TLC TV Show, has profited from Filipinas experiencing racist microaggressions and the stereotype of submissive Asian wives, even if they don’t mean so.
Jenny, a filipina living in the province of Urdaneta was filmed upset with how her white partner responded to lechon being served for his welcome, Her partner embarrassed her family by being afraid of getting sick through our food. Because of her accent, she pronounced “rude” as road. The first who laughed was us.
There is nothing wrong with these women nor even the show inherently, but there is something disgusting about how media companies turn their lived experiences into entertainment without considering the power dynamics of gender and race. But to be fair, this also raises the question: who is wrong, the media that presented Jenny or us the audience who reacted as we did?
A number of Fil-Am movies also punch down on Filipinas. The fabulous Filipino Brothers portrayed Filipinas horrendously; they were either sexualized, dead, or narrators; no nuance, joy, or celebration. Although to be fair, Easter Sunday more recently did better.
These are filmmakers raised by Filipina communities but rely on their ridicule to make money. Locally, telenovelas aren’t any better.
This ‘Imeldafication’, or the lousy faith representation of Filipina women to criticize culture, is rooted in racism and misogyny, hurting individuals that are most vulnerable.
More than half or 59.6% of overseas workers are women, and more than half of them work as laborers and unskilled workers. These portrayals and lack of nuances do not help.
This is a call to be more critical of not just how we see Filipinas, but how we watch them. How we criticize matters. We must ask ourselves; do we laugh because it’s Imelda or do we laugh because it’s Filipina? Is she even a laughing matter?
Lots of media content answer this question, such as Lauren Greenfield‘s “The Kingmaker” and PBS’ episode of Imelda. The politics and the urgency of criticizing her properly are palpable.
In a time when critique is essential, we must remember to act in good faith and inclusion. This applies to people we don’t agree with.
To say the least, I don’t like Imelda Marcos, but I also don’t like seeing misogyny through her. F
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Vol. 58, Issue No. 1 of the Flame. View the entire issue through this link.