When it was announced that Netflix is picking up Brillante Mendoza's Amo as its first Philippine-produced series, excitement for it was accompanied by some suspicion. People were mostly just glad to have a Filipino production on an international platform—but also, it just had to be about one of the most sensitive and polarizing hot-button issues facing our country today. Amo is set against President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, and is directed by Brillante Mendoza, a known supporter of his administration.
That same suspicion has since grown to become outrage, manifest now in a recent Change.org petition for Netflix to cancel Amo altogether. Filed by Luzviminda Siapo—mother of the late Raymart Siapo, who was one of the drug war's casualties—the petition asks plainly: Netflix, Don’t Air Pro-Duterte Drug War Series. Here's an excerpt from her testimony in the petition:
"Isa ang anak ko sa libo-libong biktima ng kampanya sa droga ni President Duterte. Ngayong ipapalabas ang AMO, isang show tungkol sa war on drugs sa Pilipinas, ako po ay lubos na nababahala. Ayon sa kanyang direktor na si Brillante Mendoza, ang war on drugs ay kailangan ng Pilipinas at nang ibang bansang may problema sa droga.
"Nais ko pong manawagan na ikansela ang show na ito. Hindi war on drugs ang sagot sa problema sa droga. Para sa akin hindi tama ang pagpatay. Bawat tao ay may karapatang mabuhay at magbago."
As of this writing, the petition has amassed about 6,000 signatures, along with several messages of support, like:
Many more comments have echoed the same reasons for Netflix to cancel the show. Petitioners are calling Amo out as a form of propaganda, perturbed by the message it could send about the situation in the Philippines.
The filmmaker himself has denied glorifying the drug war in an interview with The Telegraph, in which he is quoted as saying: "I have this feeling that, because I am doing a series against illegal drugs, that people are prejudging it. It will pass through different points of view, different perspectives, depending on the subject matter that we are dealing with."
Still, critics of the administration maintain their skepticism. In a statement to BBC News, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said that the show appeared to ignore "the vicious reality of Duterte's drug war." He went on to say that "Any dramatic representation of the drug war should stick to the same facts that have motivated an ICC examination of the killings, rather than provide an airbrushed version which does detriment to the truth while benefiting the Duterte government's formidable propaganda machine."
It is yet unclear whether or not the petition can affect corporate decisions at Netflix. But if anything, it does raise ever-important moral questions: At what point does a filmmaker's voice lend itself to a political agenda? If art is necessarily political, where is the line between free expression and propaganda? Between art that provokes constructive discourse, and art that disinforms? And then of course, ultimately, should Netflix cancel Amo because audiences disagree with the director and his stand on the issue being tackled by the series?
It would certainly take discernment and a thorough examination of the material to arrive at an informed opinion. But should you find that the show does need to be cancelled, you know where to sign.