Banned and Controversial Filipino Films You Need to See
Have you ever come across a film so controversial, so bold that the President had to step in to ban it from public viewing? It seems to be the case for many of the country's most groundbreaking films. That or it was just politics.
Any merit this Alvin Yapan film evaporated when word got out that a dog was killed during production. Based on the true story of the "Gata Four Massacre" in Caramoan, Camarines Sur, it won several accolades and received positive reviews. The dog killing, however, resulted in Senate hearings and closed-door meetings. The scene was eventually edited out, but its effect has somehow lasted.
Live Show (2001)
This Jose Javier Reyes film is famous for being called "a well-made soft porn film" by none other than then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Live Show, which was originally named Toro, depicted the lives of poor people who had to resort to performing lewd acts on stage to survive. It is one of the few wide-release films that featured full-frontal nudity. After pressure from the Catholic Church, the President herself had to suspend it from airing on theaters. It ignited a debate between freedom of expression and religion. Though initially banned by the MTRCB, it was allowed to re-air after the title, which meant pay-per-view sex, was changed.
Brillante Mendoza's film, featuring indie favorite Coco Martin, is unapologetically graphic, depicting unfiltered gore and violence. It prompted critic Roger Ebert to pronounce it the worst film to ever screen at Cannes and concluded that it unites the audience in their repulsion. On his blog, he noted: "Poor Mendoza knows that his strategy is alienating, his scenes unpleasant and painful, his audience recoiling." Not everyone agreed with the legendary writer, however. Kinatay, about a policeman who gets involved in the murder of a prostitute, won several accolades and a few Best Director prizes for Mendoza.
Manila By Night (1980)
This classic did not impress then First Lady Imelda Marcos. Ishmael Bernal's unrefined, gritty take on Manila's underground nightlife did not align with her vision of a beautiful Philippines. Marcos even wanted to ban it for export. The title was changed to City After Dark, so that it would not automatically be associated with the capital.
Starring Jodi Sta. Maria in one of her pluckier roles, Chassis tells the story of a mom and her daughter who live in a semi-trailer. The mom resorts to prostitution to make ends meet. It all sounds pretty standard for these types of films, but director Adolf Alix Jr. also included castration, full-frontal male nudity, and masturbation. Chassis was rated X (which means unfit for public viewing) by the MTRCB—twice—with a note that said "there was no redeeming value in the exposure of the penis.”
Eventually, the MTRCB appeals committee recommended an R18, citing the film's moral content. President Noynoy Aquino, however, banned the film from public screening.
The premise revolves around a dead man's body that ends up in a funeral home that rents out cadavers as a sideline. Director Roderick Cabrido had to deal with several scandals after production, including a rumor that real corpses were used during filming. However, the biggest controversy were the scenes featuring necrophilia.
Never Tear Us Apart (2018)
Whammy Alcazaren's film was supposed to be revolutionary. It was shot entirely on three iPhone Xs and, prior to its release, made rounds on social media for its cheeky marketing. Unfortunately, one small detail overshadowed these: the original title was Fisting, which denotes a sexual act. Cinema One Originals, the festival hosting the film, requested a name change. All promotional material and social media pages featuring the initial title had to be taken down.
Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1984)
Another Lino Brocka oeuvre that pushed the envelope, Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim wove inspired-by-true-life events into a seamless narrative that, unfortunately, inflamed the government. The story, which was written by Pete Lacaba, was a direct protest against the Marcos regime and even used the song "Bayan Ko," which became the anthem of Ninoy Aquino's assassination, in its title. Censorship caused the film's delay: Sex scenes featuring live shows were removed as well as clips of real-life protests.
Bayan Ko was lauded at the Palm D'Or, where the film industry expressed outrage at the censorship it was receiving back home. When Brocka returned to the Philippines, he was arrested for inciting sedition. It was finally screened in the Philippines a year later.
Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (1998)
Context is important in realizing why this Rosanna Roces starrer became controversial. It was 1998 and there weren't many films featuring homosexuality, especially in the way that director Carlos Siguion-Reyna depicted. Though the title would make you assume it was a love story, the "man" in Selya's life is actually gay and the film featured detailed homosexual love scenes.
At that point, Siguion-Reyna, son of film legend Armida Siguion Reyna, was known for breaking barriers. One of his earlier films, also featuring Roces, was Ligaya ang Itawag Mo sa Akin, which illustrated rape. It was initially given an X rating and was only aired to the public after numerous concessions that resulted in scenes on the cutting floor.
Citizen Jake (2018)
The Mike De Leon-led film featured journalist Atom Araullo in the titular role. The noir crime drama was extremely hyped and was supposed to be included in the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival, but it was not selected. De Leon later attributed it to corruption in the selection committee. Citizen Jake was then slated for a May 2018 release, but around that time the director and his star exchanged fierce blows. The former called Araullo "disrespectful, pompous, narcissistic." Araullo responded via a Facebook post how difficult their working relationship was, with the director bursting into tantrums and sporting a "woeful behavior." We're not even sure what happened in the movie exactly.
Burlesk Queen (1977)
The Celso Ad Castillo and Vilma Santos collaboration hit it big at the very first Metro Manila Film Festival, winning major awards including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress. It was a coming-of-age for Santos, who was mostly known for her teen roles. The controversial climax came in one of the final scenes, when the "burlesk queen" danced and gyrated on stage, causing a miscarriage.
Apparently, Brocka didn't believe all the acclaim was deserved. During the MMFF ceremony, he allegedly threw invectives at chairman Rolando Tinio and walked out.
Hubad na Bayani (1977)
It wasn't the film but its offshoot that proved controversial. The Urian Best Picture winner by director Robert Ylagan revolved around 1930's peasant uprising and the overthrowing of the government. Such a theme was not supportive of the current administration and when University of the Philippines' fraternity APO decided to sponsor a screening, the plan was shot down by the government. To protest the blatant censorship, two APO members streaked Palma Hall, declared as "naked heroes of a defiant university under Martial Law." This was the inception of the Oblation Run. As APO wrote in a statement: "The first oblation run was a promotional gimmick for a film Marcos deemed politically dangerous."