Arts & Entertainment

Atom Araullo Addresses "Deliberately Hurtful Remarks" of 'Citizen Jake' Director Mike de Leon

The saga continues.
IMAGE Citizen Jake
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After keeping silent and refusing to comment over the past week, Atom Araullo has finally addressed the controversial comments made by Citizen Jake director Mike De Leon.

Last week, just days ahead of the nationwide theatrical release of Citizen Jake, De Leon aired some thoughts about Araullo, his film's lead actor. In a long and since-deleted Facebook post by the Citizen Jake page, De Leon said that Araullo “disappointed” him; “not as an actor but as a person,” raising issues with Araullo’s brand of journalism and convictions.

In the post, De Leon wrote that Araullo's journalism was "not the gritty kind but more of the celebrity-centered schlock that sometimes verges on entertainment, even showbiz." He also said that "Perhaps the journalist was really a closet movie star.”

The director also expressed minor dissatisfaction with Araullo's performance as an actor, but more importantly, raised an issue of convictions. "I hoped that in the end, we would still share the same convictions we started off with. Alas, that was not to be. Now I find myself alone in speaking for the film, defending the film against those who would exploit it for political mileage and those who would wish it harm, two types of people of basically the same mold.”

In the days that followed, Araullo declined requests for comment, telling CNN Philippines, “It’s best not to comment at this time, it might distract from the film." For his part, when reached for comment, De Leon told Esquire that to him, it was no longer an issue. “It’s not even interesting any more. I’m just glad that it’s the film that is resonating with most people who’ve seen it and not that other issue. That alone would make a film director like me happy.”

Today, Araullo finally broke his silence to respond.

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In his own long Facebook post, Araullo recounted the events leading up to him being cast as the titular Jake Herrera. While he praised De Leon's bravery and singular storytelling, Araullo also said that Citizen Jake is a "love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie," and that it "can be seen by some as cynical or nihilistic." Araullo also said that he does stand by the movie and will defend it, but that "Jake Herrera is not Atom Araullo."

Araullo went on to defend his own work and his own brand of journalism, before explaining that he was not surprised by De Leon's outburst. "It was only the latest in a string of unprovoked, irrational, almost random tantrums that I had to endure during the making of this film, determined as I was to see it through," wrote Araullo. "It had a profound effect on me, and to be honest, made it that much harder to perform my duties in the movie."

Check out the full Facebook post here, and the full text below:

Before anything else, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who supported Citizen Jake. Despite the inherent challenges of promoting an independent movie that deals with a controversial theme, I am humbled by the strong response to the film, good or bad. It was the result of more than a year of hard work by a resilient, dedicated, and talented team.

Sadly, I found myself in the middle of a minor controversy just as Citizen Jake was released to a wider audience last week. I chose to keep quiet while the movie was still in cinemas because I didn’t want to distract from the film, or be accused of cheap gimmickry to promote it. Besides, I figured that those who really mattered know me well and would not be swayed by what they hear in the rumor mill.

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Nevertheless, I feel like I owe it to the supporters of the movie, many of whom are asking, to set the record straight. I intend for this to be the first and last time I write on the matter.

I was approached to be part of Citizen Jake around September of 2016. Early on, without a script or a clear story, director Mike de Leon wanted me to play the lead in the film. It was a surprise. Mike had no basis to determine whether I could act or not, much less carry an entire film (with what would turn out to be a challenging role). Naturally, my first questions were: Why me? What movie are we crafting to justify my participation as an actor? Mike was adamant that he wanted a journalist and non-actor to play the character because of his unique vision for Citizen Jake. I believed in the director, and like others who admire his work, I wanted to see him make another film after some 17 years of retirement at the time. So, I said yes.

Mike knows that it was not an easy decision. Journalists becoming actors is unconventional to say the least. Colleagues raised their eyebrows, and surely many in the film industry did, too. I knew that I would be subjected to an intense level of scrutiny from all sides, and others will harbor suspicion about my motives. But this was the price to pay for an extraordinary opportunity to speak truth to power in a different medium. I have had more than my fair share of good fortune in my life, and the least I owe the universe is to have the courage to step up to the plate when called upon. I learned that from my parents.

Citizen Jake seems like a love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie. As a co-writer, I sensed that early on as we strove to interweave various arcs, elements, and layers of meaning into a cogent narrative to fulfill Mike’s vision. A lot has been said about how brave the film is in tackling its themes, but Mike is also brave in staying loyal to his singular style of storytelling. He never panders to the audience, something which I respect.

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Do I stand by the film? Of course I do. Will I defend it? That goes without saying. While it has its weaknesses and limitations, I am immensely proud to be part of Citizen Jake. Meanwhile, and I fear I’m stating the obvious, Jake Herrera is not Atom Araullo. Although there are similarities, we don’t necessarily share the same politics. The film is told through the point of view of the privileged elite and can be seen by some as cynical or nihilistic. Maybe it is. It does not presume to answer any questions about our predicament as a nation. But, for me, that doesn’t make the story of Jake less interesting or worthy of attention.

The film itself is already a statement. As for my own political views on current events, I have expressed and will continue to express them in my own way and on my own terms. I have not had a problem with being outspoken in the past, and my views have not changed since the making of Citizen Jake.

Mike made deliberately hurtful remarks about my journalism, which, ironically, has nothing to do with my participation in the film. All I can say is that I have never made any claims about the quality of my output or my stature in the media industry. To do so would be futile and obscene. I just aim to do my best like everyone else, always acknowledging that one continues to learn and improve everyday. I’ll leave it to the public to appraise the value of my work, accumulated over a decade of being a journalist.

Despite everything, I do not wish to besmirch Mike’s reputation the way he did mine. However, I think it is important to explain that while many were shocked by his recent tirade, I was not. It was only the latest in a string of unprovoked, irrational, almost random tantrums that I had to endure during the making of this film, determined as I was to see it through. It had a profound effect on me, and to be honest, made it that much harder to perform my duties in the movie. Almost everyone who at one point worked on Citizen Jake knows this, and his voluminous texts and emails will bear it out. When others found themselves in Mike’s crosshairs, I tried to be there to lend a sympathetic ear. Perhaps his woeful behavior continues because he is never held accountable. Mike is a deeply troubled person. The kindest thing I can say about him is that he needs help, patience, and understanding as he wrestles with his personal demons. But while he has certainly tested the limits of my endurance, I can rest easy knowing that I worked hard, behaved professionally, and did all to the best of my abilities at the time the film was made.

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Mike’s contribution to Philippine cinema is unquestionable. I hope he remains productive after Citizen Jake, making more movies that will rouse our consciousness, make us uncomfortable, and spur debate. I am still grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this film, now that I close this chapter of my life.

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Citizen Jake is now on its second week in theaters. You can still catch the film at Black Maria Cinema, Cinema 76 Anonas, Eastwood, Gateway, and SM Megamall. Follow this link for screening schedules.

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