Sunday Beauty Queens: “A Tapestry of Narratives” of the Filipino diaspora

Mid-year of 2020 during quarantine lockdown, I have spent most of my time exploring East Asian films. From the films of the 4-time Academy award-winning South Korean film director Bong Joon-Ho, the maker of Parasite, Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer; Burning of Lee Chang-dong; Shoplifters and Maborosi of Hirokazu Kore-eda; Love Exposure and Himizu of Sion Sono (Japan); The Love Trilogy of Wong Kar-Wai (Hong Kong); The Vengeance Trilogy of Park Chan-Wook (South Korea); to the exceptional indie films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) — Cemetery of Splendour; Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (Thailand) — Happy Old Year, Mag Hsu, Chih-Yen Hsu, Hsu Chih-yen (Taiwan) — Dear Ex.

Taking a stroll around the East Asian filmography, you’d immediately notice that some of these films reek of social and political commentary. One that tackles poverty and social inequalities, political turmoils, and ills of capitalism — and there’s one that caught my attention, a passionate exposé on the living conditions that follows a group of expatriate domestic workers in Hong Kong and their escapism in the form of a beauty pageant — Sunday Beauty Queens (2016) by Baby Ruth Villarama.

This brief review confronts the grueling reality of the Filipino Overseas Workers or OFWs. They say that there is a Filipino in every corner of the world. To some extent, that is correct. However, that is not something to be proud of. This was a well-made documentary that I think everyone should see to remind us of our hardworking and courageous OFWs, our unsung modern-day heroes. This perfectly depicts how it feels to be an OFW and all the struggles and sacrifices that come with it.

What this film has achieved is how it humanizes one of the most exploited sectors of the Philippine working class, the domestic helpers. What haunted me about this docu-film when I first watched was the rawness of the emotions and the authenticity of the bittersweet life narratives of our OFWs. It is quite bittersweet to think about how most of us do not have any choice but to leave our families and our motherland for better opportunities abroad. Imagine having to take care of a child or even a family that is not your own while having to worry about your children back at home. And the fact that most of them are college graduates but choose to work as a helper abroad just because it pays better. One can imagine how they struggled yet survived all forms of discrimination and exploitation to make ends meet.

Analyzing the film, the documentary illuminates the intertwining problems of marginalization of domestic helpers rooted in social inequality and poverty. This film has manifested and proved that we are victims of our society that does not acknowledge our college diplomas, our intellectual prowess, skills, and talents. etc. because at the end of the day, we are battling in a social arena of opportunities and privileges to survive.

The movie, moreover, amplifies the connection between politics on the part of the HK government and the PH government on the other hand. We always call OFWs heroes but do not give them the credit they deserve. Better policies, safeguards against abuse, and adequate government support should be demanded because these queens carry not only a crown but the burden of the Philippine economy and Philippine society on their heads. After watching the film, this made me think of where and how they are now — with the pandemic and all. I hope the DOLE — OWWA and the many organizations that cater to the rights of OFWs heard this film’s plea. Just because they are willing to sacrifice an easier life in our country, does not mean they deserve and will settle for poor treatment.

My respect for our overseas Filipino workers has gone greater than ever after seeing this informative and enlightening documentary. It made me better understand the situation of those domestic workers in Hong Kong and around the world and their everyday struggle of working hard to sustain their family’s needs while also sacrificing the pain of being far from their family and not being able to see them. It is like not having to think, or worry about someone abroad, is a privilege. Someday, maybe, people won’t have to work abroad to live a good life.

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