It’s Christmas season, which means the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is upon us, complete with a new slew of controversies strong enough to inform the general direction of the Filipino film industry in 2018 (and probably beyond). Perhaps the biggest issue this year’s lineup faced was the gradual removal of the Loy Arcenas-directed Ang Larawan from various cinemas the nation over, spurring righteous arguments from cinemagoers aching for a “good” local film to have its chance to turn a profit:
Despite having bagged the Best Picture, Best Actress (for Joanna Ampil), and Best Musical Score (for Ryan Cayabyab) awards, Ang Larawan’s box office rates pale considerably in comparison to MMFF People’s Choice Award winner Gandarrapiddo: The Revengers Squad, which stars Vice Ganda, Pia Wurtzbach, and Daniel Padilla. It’s been rumored that, along with the Coco Martin hero flick Ang Panday, they earned over P100 million on opening day. The aforementioned films seem to have been created on two totally different universes: the former is an adaptation of a renowned play by National Artist Nick Joaquin, while the latter features a team of comedic heroes out to battle a common enemy. If we’re talking artistry and substance, the choice seems obvious, right? Following the removal of Ang Larawan from various cinemas, many expressed their outrage accordingly:
See, The Revengers Squad is an easy target; it’s yet another ‘vapid comedy’ whose clout hangs entirely on its strategic cast and lighthearted premise. It’s anchored by stereotypical Filipino family values and never dares to explore the dark and depressing (another entry much like it: Vic Sotto's Meant to Beh, whose title alone doesn't invite any audience to take it seriously). Many say the plot is so replete with holes, it’s like it was shot at. Many say that people only go to see the movie because KathNiel are in it. Many say the script is badly-written, that Vice Ganda should leave the MMFF once and for all. These abrasive arguments are put forward in pursuit of a supposedly noble cause—to bring “great” movies like Ang Larawan to the forefront, and to bring back the golden days of the Philippine film industry.
But here’s the thing. Attacking The Revengers Squad—and those who patronize such films—doesn’t do jack shit for Ang Larawan’s box office ratings. Frankly, to do so is grossly elitist and ignorant of the reasons Filipinos attend the MMFF in the first place.
The comedy genre itself is easy to underestimate, but just because a film is funny doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. There are films and shows that explore serious themes, such as mental health, that miss the mark entirely (what’s good, 13 Reasons Why?). Criticism for The Revengers Squad shouldn’t be based on the fact that artistic geniuses like Ryan Cayabyab and Rolando Tinio didn’t have a hand in creating it. If your angry tweets and Facebook posts only serve to hurl insults at the films making the most money, Filipinos’ cinema habits won’t change for the long term. In the same way The Revengers Squad shouldn’t be put down for its thematic choices, Ang Larawan shouldn’t be touted as a movie Filipinos ought to see, like it’s some kind of obligation. Even worse, making assumptions about somebody’s personality or intelligence based on the movies they prefer to see is not only uncalled-for, but also unproductive. We’re not any better than other people because of our preferences. (Not to mention it’s Christmastime, and many moviegoers, families in particular, are just looking for something fun.)
We need to create an environment in which appreciation for good films is organic, not born out of pressure to consume the intellectually superior. The dichotomy between “high art” and “low art” creates an even bigger divide among Filipinos, with both sides resenting one another for something as simple as the movies we want to see. All we ask is that all MMFF films are given equal exposure in cinemas nationwide, so that Filipinos have the freedom to decide.