What a Dead Dog Taught Us About the Film Industry
This so-called revolution does not have balls. It takes credit for everything that goes right then washes its hands of anything that seems to go wrong. But what did go wrong? That a dog was slaughtered and eaten in a film for the sake of a film? That Oro's creators lied about the slaughter? How about the fact that the government institutions tasked to evaluate the suitability of Oro's release for the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 absolved themselves of responsibility, then after public pressure, decided to pull out the film in theaters and ban it nationwide?
Banning a film is censorship in its most absolute sense, a non-solution that all artists—no, all Filipinos—must stand against.
Oro was examined and subsequently approved for public viewing not just by the MMFF's selection and executive committees, but also by the Cinema Evaluation Board (which rated it B) and the MTRCB, which rated it PG. Four committees screened it separately and not one bothered to verify whether a dog was indeed killed on screen or not? What this tells us is that, when they first viewed it, these committees saw nothing wrong with the violent scene—until PAWS and the online mob took offense.
Alvin Yapan has the right to make his film however he wants. If he and his producers violated the law, then take them to court. But do not punish the film by pulling it out of theaters, going so far as banning it from showing anywhere in the country. Banning a film is censorship in its most absolute sense, a non-solution that all artists—no, all Filipinos—must stand against.
As if banning the film—their only solution to one objectionable scene—was not bad enough, cultural leaderships were actually running on public money to call for that ban. MMFF 2016's battlecry for a "revolution" became ironic. They promised that things will change, that this will be a real revolution. But where is that revolution? It's embarrassing that it took so little—a complaint from PAWS and pressure from social media—to send cultural institutions running, tail between their legs. What could have been an opportunity to elevate discourse on film practice and culture dissolved into mass handwashing. Film development and cultural advancement, my ass!
I saw the film. I have no problem with the slaughter and the subsequent meal. I have killed bigger and smaller animals, for my films and in my home. Are Yapan, Oro's producers, and I barbarians for seeing nothing wrong with animal slaughter? Animal killing and eating is a cultural specificity I grew up with and understand. In fact, I think the practice of dog-eating got labeled barbaric for racist and classist reasons, aspirations of our law-writing middle class to Western-defined standards of civility. We have always been an animal-slaughtering and animal-eating society. We saw animals as givers of life. There is rich anthropological literature on the care that Filipinos lavish on those that they will later slaughter. So what changed? How did we go from people who had Sunday dog markets to people who now devote ourselves to protecting this species while allowing other animals the same fate? More importantly, who is this "we"?
It's embarrassing that it took so little—a complaint from PAWS and pressure from social media—to send cultural institutions running, tail between their legs.
Censorship is not a solution to the killing of the dog in Oro. If laws were violated, go ahead and punish the violators within the framework of that law. Do not turn Oro into a social media circus that would have us go back to the dark ages of film censorship. The film industry has fought too long and too hard against it.
The only consolation I can offer Yapan and his producers at this point is this: long after MMFF 2016 has been forgotten, Oro will remain a subject for discourse. The banning of Oro reveals two things: First, the revolution denies criticism; and second, the revolution does not have balls.