MMFF 2016: The connection between ‘Die Beautiful’ and Jennifer Laude

Alexa Villano
Trans actresses Rica Paras and Mimi Juareza, and star Paolo Ballesteros, also share their thoughts on the film's relevance and impact

DIE BEAUTIFUL. Director Jun Robles Lana says the movie is inspired by the case of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman, who was killed in 2014. Screengrab from YouTube/Regal Films

MANILA, Philippines – Die Beautiful has made waves internationally and is all set to hit Philippines theaters in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) – and as the cast and crew begin promoting the film, we’re learning more and more about the project’s origins and journey. Here is one meaningful fact: director Jun Robles Lana said that Die Beautiful was partially inspired by the life and death of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman who was killed in 2014. (READ: FULL LIST: 8 MMFF 2016 entries, trailers revealed

Jennifer was killed by a Marine officer – Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton in Olongapo. Her death prompted further conversation on the rights of members of the LGBT community, especially for the trans community. 

At the press conference for the movie last Monday, December 5, direk Jun, behind acclaimed films such as Bwakaw, Barber’s Tales, and Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan, shared how Jennifer’s story inspired the project at the beginning. 

Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

“Remember the murder of Jennifer Laude? That’s how this project started. When Jennifer Laude was murdered, what was really shocking na aside from the fact up to now di pa talaga nakukuha yung hustisya na buo para sa kanyaay yung reaction ng mga tao nung nangyari iyon. Parang they were saying she deserved to die, buti na lang na pinatay iyan kasi transgender, kasi monster, yung mga ganun ehShocking na bakit ganito?

(When Jennifer Laude was murdered, what was really shocking was that aside from the act up to now that she has yet to get the justice she deserves, is the reaction of the people when it happened. It was like they were saying she deserved to die, that it was right she was killed because she was a transgender woman, because she was a monster, things like that. It was shocking, why is the reaction like this?)

“Percy [Intalan, his partner] and I got married in New York and parang for us, it’s a celebration of our long partnership, yung companionship. And then makakabasa ka ng nangyari sa isang transgender [woman], parang it’s a huge step back. And as a filmmaker, meron akong responsibility, feeling ko. Ginamit ko yung kaunting resources na meron ako, yung kaunting influence na meron ako para makagawa ng isang pelikula na tatalakay ng transgender experience.”

(And then you read something like this that has happened to a transgender person, it’s a huge step back. And as a filmmaker, I feel I have the responsibility. I used and pulled the minimal resources I have, the small influence that I have to make a film and to tell the story of the transgender experience.)

Director Jun Lana. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

While there have been many films about the LGBT community, direk Jun said that he wanted to look more into the lives of trans people. 

“Yes, I agree na marami ng pelikula sa atin na tungkol sa gay experience. Pero yung transgender, yung context life, struggles ng transgender [people], I don’t think ganun karami. And iyon yung particular topic subject matter na I wanted to explore.” 

(I agree there have been many films about the gay experience. But for the transgender, their life, the struggles of a transgender [person], I don’t think there’s that much. And that’s the particular topic subject matter I wanted to explore.)

Sa ating kasi pag bakla, bakla para isang umbrella. So hindi naintindihan yung concept na gender identity, yung sexual orientation. Of course hindi naman lecture yung buong pelikula para malaman yung gender identity, sexual orientation but we made sure na maayos na tinalakay namin yung pinagdadaanan nung character niya [Paolo] si Tricia para maintindihan namin siya.”

(In our society, when you’re gay, you’re gay, it’s just one umbrella, it seems to others. So not everyone understands the concept of gender identity, sexual orientation. Of course the movie is not a lecture preaching about gender identity, sexual orientation. We made sure that we were able to tackle the situation of Tricia’s character, to understand her.)

Direk Jun and Paolo Ballesteros

For trans actresses Rica Paras and Mimi Juareza, Die Beautiful serves as an opportunity for society to learn more about the transgender community. 

Rica, who was a former housemate on Pinoy Big Brother, said that movie is meaningful to her, because it resonates with her experiences.

Madaming mga naging topic ng pelikulang ang transgender. Pero itong pelikula na ito, para sa akin, ito yung nagbigay buhay sa transgender… mula sa pagkabata niya, paano niya nakilala yung sarili niya, hanggang sa yung mga dreams niya, yung mga ginawa niya sa buhay, hanggang sa kamatayan, at kung paano siya sinuportahan ng mga tao, na touch niya sa buong buhay niya. So para sa akin, parang naging autobiography na siya ng isang transgender life and this movie really brings it to life,” she said.

 

(There have been so many films tackling the topic of transgender people. But this film, for me, this is the one that gave life to a transgender person… from the time she was a kid, how she got to know herself, up to her dreams, what she did with her life, until she died, and how she was supported and people whose lives she touched. So for me, it somehow became almost autobiographical, in that it tackles a transgender person’s life; this movie brings it to life.) 

 

Rica Paras. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

 

Mimi echoed Rica’s statement. She said that she herself can relate to the character of Tricia.

“Yes, katulad ng sinabi ni Rica, napakadami na ng transgender movies na lumabas. Pero this film, parang sobrang relatable para sa akin. Kasi ang nangyari, ako iyon si Paolo. Mula nung nag start siya, nung nag-out siya as transgender, parang naiisip ko na ako ito, nangyari sa akin. Tapos ngayon pinakita sa malaking sinehan, that it will open minds to everybody, not just katulad [sa] namin, at sa mga taong straight, pag napanood nila yung movie, talagang mabubuksan yung isipan nila na mahirap yung pinagdadaanan namin, ng mga katulad namin, she said.

(Yes, as what Rica said, there may have been movies that already tackled the life of trans people. But this film, it’s very relatable for me. Because what happened was, it was like I was Paolo’s [character]. From the moment she started, when she came out as transgender, I thought it was me, it happened to me. And now, it’s being shown on the big screen, that it will open minds to everybody – not just people like us, and for the straight people out there, when they watch the movie, it will really open their minds on what we are going through.)

Hindi lang siya sa nakikita ng mga tao na sobrang saya, happy-go-lucky, pinagtatawan, pero at the back of it, napakalungkot dahil ang dami namin pinagdadaanan. Sobrang sad kaya pag napanood ninyo itong film na ito, sobrang maiintindihan at marami kayong matutunan. At dapat pagkatapos ito panoorin, masasabi ninyo na we LGBT should have a place in this world.”

(People don’t just see that we’re always smiling, happy-go-lucky, always laughed at, but at the back of it, it’s very sad because we’re going through so many things in life. So when you watch this film, you’ll understand and you’ll learn so much from it. And hopefully after watching this film, you’ll definitely say that we LGBT people should have a place in this world.) 

Mimi Juareza. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

For Paolo Ballesteros, the film is significant not only for his career, but also because of his personal ties to the LGBT community. 

“I’ve always been pro [LGBT], being I have a lesbian sister na I love so much,” he told reporters after the press conference.

“So growing up with her, siya yung talagang nag-alaga sa amin (it was her who took care of us) everyday. So very close to my heart [ang] mga transgender [people], mga LGBT. So walang pagbabago (Nothing has changed) – same respect, save love for them.”

Paolo Ballesteros. Photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler

The film, which started as passion project for direk Jun, has been recognized internationally, with Paolo winning the Best Actor award at the Tokyo International Film Festival last November. It was also honored with the Audience Award. 

Die Beautiful also stars Joel Torre, Luis Alandy, Gladys Reyes, Albie Casiño, Inah de Belen, Christian Bables, IC Mendoza, Cedrick Juan, and Faye  Alhambra, with the special participation of Iza Cazaldo and Eugene Domingo. The film opens on December 25 as part of the Metro Manila Film Festival. – Rappler.com

 

 

 

Alexa Villano

Alexa is one of Rappler's Lifestyle and Entertainment reporters, covering local entertainment news to a wide range of topics from beauty pageants to reality shows.