The curse that is Imelda Marcos: A review of Lauren Greenfield’s ‘Kingmaker’ film

Patricio N. Abinales

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The curse that is Imelda Marcos: A review of Lauren Greenfield’s ‘Kingmaker’ film
'This is a film that makes us remember why we as young adults fought the dictatorship. We lost and the Marcoses are back, and it's time for the next generation to step up'

About 4 minutes into Kingmaker, Imelda Marcos said her first lie. As she drove Lauren Greenfield and her crew around Manila in her Mercedes-Benz passenger van, she muttered how, “before, during my time, there were no beggars,” adding that “I had a place for them.” She did not say where that place was, nor did she tell Greenfield of how the street beggars and people in the slums were forcibly removed from her “City of Man.” 

The lies were topped only by the narcissism. Here is Imelda boasting: “I could not only be Number One First Lady. I had to be a Mother. I had to embrace everybody, take care of everybody, love everybody, ensure that there was a solution to all their problems. And I was there totally. I was no longer Mother of my family, the First Family, Mother of the People, here in the Philippines. After a while I was already mothering already the world.”

And there was the megalomania: “Look, I am no longer First Lady. I do not…I’m not even allowed to go around the world anymore. They prohibit me…everything… I have money in 170 banks, and deposits of assets. I cannot even have them. And I, even at this stage, even at my age, I can go around the world and bring world peace. I befriended all of them. Khaddafy was a friend, Saddam Hussein, Mr…ahhhmm… Mao Tse Tung. I just give respect to him (puts her forehead on his hand). He took my hand and kissed it. In 5 minutes, he said, ‘Mrs. Marcos, you started the end of the Cold War.’ In 5 minutes! Mao! So who is Imelda?’” 


For every Imelda braggadocio, there were family friends, foes, and ordinary Filipinos who contradicted her.

Imelda claimed she had “a beautiful married life” with Ferdinand Marcos (she referred to him in the 3rd person a la Richard Nixon, who she described as a “misunderstood” leader). Beth Day Romulo had a different portrait of Marcos.

The widow of General Carlos Romulo said “Marcos always had an eye for the ladies which he did not give up when he married.” Day-Romulo continued: “He had a world map where he picks the farthest places from Manila where he could send his wife and got her out of the way so that he could carry on his affairs.” Day-Romulo remembered the day Imelda “cried…on the General’s shoulder [saying], ‘I gave him everything he wants, and still he cheated on me!’”

One time, Imelda told Marcos to purchase giraffes and zebras in 1975. She told Greenfield that she had these animals placed in an island where there were no communities, “except a few who (sic) I could tell them what to do.” Remedios Tradio, a resident of Caluiat, however, related how they were forced to leave by the military – all 250 families. “Hayup ipalit sa amin sa isla namin,” she lamented. (Animals replaced us in the island.) 

Imelda claimed that one of the first things she did once she came home from exile was to visit the island. The safari manager who had been there since 1975 said, “She did not.” 

Imelda called the San Juanico Bridge the bridge of love that Marcos built for her. The writer Jose Lacaba saw it differently. Lacaba narrated how his military torturer made him lie down between two beds, his head in one, the legs on the other. He was made to stay in that position, and when he fell, they would force him up. This would last for hours, this torture that political detainees called “San Juanico.”

Imelda prided herself as the Filipinos’ Mother, but in the film, the way she related to the poor was through money. She doled out P20 to street kids, and at the Doctors at the Children Cancer Center, she did not inquire about the children’s health. She handed them P1,000 “for candies.”

Eminence Grise

Yet, behind these absurdities was a Machiavellian. Veronica Pedrosa called her “The Iron Butterfly” and Kingmaker seconds this with numerous glimpses of her power. 

After finally catching her husband with that infamous sex tape of Ferdinand and the American actress Dovie Beams, Imelda used the recording to blackmail her husband into allowing her to do the things she wanted to do. She started building edifices with gusto, went into a buying spree getting 3 apartments in the Waldorf Astoria and paintings from Paris, and – if General Romulo was to be believed – plotted the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr, while Marcos was trying to avoid near-death after his body rejected a kidney transplant (Imelda dismissed saying that the only thing that irritated her about Aquino was that “he talked too much.”)

The mother’s political calculations was most evident as she explained why Ferdinand Jr (Bongbong) must become president. Imelda called it “destiny.” The son, however, knew he would not be able to measure up to his father.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. finished law at the University of the Philippines, but Ferdinand Jr never earned a degree. Ferdinand Sr delivered his speeches extemporaneously, Ferdinand Jr had to read from a teleprompter when he declared his intention to run for the vice-presidency.  

Imelda was disappointed that Bongbong never made it to the presidency at 47, which was the age his father became one. But she was a realist and so accepted Bongbong taking the vice-presidential route. The family then poured money into Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign, with the unstated quid pro quo that at a certain point, President Duterte would step down and Vice-President Bongbong take over. 

Leni Robredo, however, spoiled everything. As she was proclaimed Vice-President, Kingmaker cuts into a church scene where we see Bongbong turning occasionally to his mother, his eyes seemingly imploring her for forgiveness for a botched job. Madame appeared not to notice.


As the film closed, Greenfield showed how close the Marcoses were to Duterte. They funded his campaign and Duterte expressed his gratitude several times. The dictator was finally laid to rest in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, sullying sacred ground. He continues to root for Bongbong in his election protest against Robredo. Imelda mused, “You need a strong leader…you need a strong leader,” obviously an homage to Duterte.

Kingmaker then brings us to the present as the first wave of killings of alleged drug suspects in the slum areas appeared on television.

Lauren Greenfield has made a film that makes us remember why we as young adults fought the dictatorship. We lost and the Marcoses are back. It’s time for the next generation to step up. – 

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