We're used to seeing late-night documentaries overtly magnifying the bleakness of their particular subjects. Whether it's a grimy sidewalk that the homeless litter, or a bloated stomach of the malnourished, producers know which details are worth exaggerating to sell a story.
With reports of abuses on Filipino domestic helpers not slowing down, it wouldn't come as a surprise if director Baby Ruth Villarama capitalized on the plight of OFWs to drive her point home in her MMFF 2016 Best Picture winner, Sunday Beauty Queen. Such an execution may not have been difficult to carry out, especially considering Hong Kong's harsh labor laws and working conditions.
Instead, the film takes the alternate route, zeroing in on the brighter side of Filipinas working abroad as househelp and the beauty pageants that take over their weekends. The fact that it took home the Best Picture prize at the Metro Manila Film Festival Awards Night speaks highly of the sound decision-making and the magnificent work done by the filmmakers behind it.
Up against seven feature films, SBQ was at a clear disadvantage when it came to winning awards due to its docu form. In building its story's structure, it had to rely on the strength of its characters' profiles and their accounts. Fortunately, the respective backgrounds of each subject were as compelling as they were colorful: Mylyn and Cherrie tugged at the heartstrings with the almost familial bond between them and their bosses, while Leo was inspiring with his utter dedication as the "Daddy" of the community.
Even while using the positive circumstances and outlooks of its central figures, SBQ was still effective in conveying the hardship that maids overseas have to endure. Villarama may have opted for somber shots of Hazel lying on the cold kitchen floor, or Rudelie getting kicked out after missing her curfew, but she trusted the maids' confessionals of longing, uncertainty, and fatigue. In the end, it proved that a good story tells itself.
Ultimately, it helped that not one scene was forced. The awkwardly choreographed production numbers perfectly summed up the climactic evening towards the movie's end. It was a lighthearted depiction of these individuals striving to stay positive despite being entrenched in their personal situations. Contrary to the docu's opening statement (1:09 mark of trailer), Sunday beauty pageants aren't an escape from the dread of daily duties, but rather serve as a fitting reward to the unbridled sacrifices of its participants.
Just when we thought that OFWs couldn't be more heroic, Sunday Beauty Queen reminds us that it's a fact we should never forget.