Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Should U.P. Ban "Gay Porno"?

In a recent article, veteran journalist Mario Bautista calls for a prohibition of what he calls "gay porno" from screening at the University of the Philippines Film Institute. UP -- along with the Cultural Center of the Philippines -- remains the last public venue for films deemed unfit for viewing by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. When the MTRCB gives a film an "X" rating, it can't be shown anywhere -- except in UP or CCP. No one in government is supposed to have legal power to curtail freedom of expression, so every movie is allowed a place -- at the very least in a cultural or educational setting.

For the past year, many X-rated films have enjoyed packed premiere screenings at UP -- sometimes a new movie every week. Today, filmmakers reserve slots at UP even before getting a rating, in anticipation of a hard time with the MTRCB. It's somewhat become standard practice, especially since it's also an effective promotional scheme in capturing a core audience. Most of these films eventually graduate to a more lenient rating of "R-18" after a cut or two, and go on to commercial runs in more accessible multiplexes. Not all of them are gay films. A few are straight. The X rating is mostly attributed to sexual content, even in films not particularly about sex. But it's the gay sex films that are presently getting the raised eyebrows, perhaps because they attract such an excitable crowd during these premieres, and perhaps because "gay" and "sex" are words that make certain sectors uncomfortable especially when put together. But much more likely, gay sex films have become targets because they have acquired a reputation for being bad. It's easy to discredit a terribly made film.

But thank goodness the UP Film Institute doesn't discriminate on values, whether moral, religious, or, more importantly, technical or artistic. It's ridiculous to ban a film based on quality or artistic merit. I sat through a terrible Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera romance last year, for example, but I'm not one to deny the one or two persons in the audience who may have found a morsel of delight in it. I wasn't exactly happy with at least half the gay films released last year either, but different people have different tastes. You have to weather the bad, because only in such a free environment can good films also thrive. They wallow in the same pond.

Filipino gay sex films are already on the fringes. This is evident because the major studios don't make them. It's almost exclusively the territory of the independents, with scrimped budgets to compensate for a significantly smaller market. Their commercial runs are very limited, in only a handful of theaters, and only in the major cities in the country. R-rated films aren't even shown in the country's largest cinema chain, SM Cinemas, following a company policy. (They only show PG or G.) X-rated films are even on the fringe of the fringe. Producers don't expect to cover their entire moviemaking cost with just one special screening in UP. Most people, even those interested to watch them, don't even brave the traffic and distance to UP in Quezon City. As it is, the setup for X-rated films is already unfriendly.

I've always had a problem with the flimsy standards and inconsistencies of the MTRCB in awarding ratings. It deserves a separate discussion, because that is not the issue here. The issue is not art or trash. It is not X or R. The issue is not exploitation of actors or unfit professional practices, though it deserves its own inquiry, of course. The issue is that in the event a film does get an X-rating, where will it go if UP chooses not to accept it? What certain people like Mario Bautista are asking for is beyond regulation, and it's not even simple censorship, it's banishment. It's throwing an entire work into limbo, never to be seen or heard from again. It's like cutting a person's tongue before people are allowed to hear what he has to say. Pity if those films turn out to be something you might actually find good, whatever your inclinations are. Supposing for a moment that government could banish content ever since the 1940's, our movies would still be unable to depict married couples in bed together (which was seen as lewd in those times), and homosexuality, even among clothed men, is a topic that would never see the light of day. Non-banishment guarantees that our culture moves forward with the times.

The most unfortunate thing that arises from this issue is the unmasking of some of our elders, like Mario Bautista, who wield phrases like "artistic freedom" yet still err on the side of banishment. If people like him won't champion expression, then who can we trust? If people in seats of government, some of whom are also artists, seek power to banish on the basis of taste, can we trust them to be the guardians of our culture? I'm also appalled that students and alumni of the University of the Philippines echo the same cries for banishment to keep their beloved alma mater "pure". I can't believe these are people who spent formative years in a diversified thinking environment. Right now, UPFI is still set for a premiere screening or two of possibly controversial material, which is the way it should be. If there's anything that needs to be changed around here, it's certain individuals' attitudes.

The Bakla Review is a homosexual, a supporter of Phiippine cinema, and an alumnus of the University of the Philippines.

Related Links:
"UP No Place For Gay Porno" By Mario Bautista
"Censors To Monitor UP Film Screenings" By Marichu Lambino
Readers Opinion at RDDantes
TBR Answers Your Burning Questions: The Rise of Gay Films

8 comments:

the barefoot baklesa said...

I may have more than once expressed my displeasure with the kind of gay-themed films released as of late.

Certain portrayals of gay sexuality to me seem like a world away from the gay life I know therefore it could seem a bit too much sometimes. But there's art and there's "just pushing it"

if the point of gay expression through cinema is to lead to a better understanding and acceptance of homosexuality other than displaying naked men in the pleasure principle equation, then i don't think we should do so much "fanservice" to the point of over-indulgent nudity,erotica, -or worse- pornography, and pass it off as a valid work of cinema. ergo, the responsibility is upon the shoulders of these film makers.

this may sound ubiquitous: I may not always agree with what these films say, yet i'll defend to the death the place where they could say it.

....thus spake the barefoot baklesa

Anonymous said...

hi. i heard about this from a friend of mine. supposedly, there was a forum last monday about this, but i was unable to go.

anyway, just want to ask permission to re-post this in my multiply account (credited of course). :)

- sunshine

thebaklareview said...

to sunshine: sure. spread the word. also, if you hear anything, tell me about what happened at the forum.

Anonymous said...

read another article about mario bautista's column and the mtrcb. http://marichulambino.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/the-censors-mtrcb-to-monitor-up-film-institute-screenings/

marichu lambino is a quite popular lawyer who was a former professor of mine in UP. definitely an interesting read. :)

- sunshine

Anonymous said...

ang ipinapakita na mga bading sa mga pelikulang ito ay nakakahiya.. hindi lahat ng bakla ay hayok sa laman!!
matagal na nating gustong magkaroon ng "acceptance"sa mga bakla dito sa pilipinas, pero kung ganito ng ganito ang mga ipinapalabas at parang ipinapakita na lahat ng bading ay sa kalaswaan at "tit*" umiikot ang mundo, abay me problema tayo!!

Anonymous said...

It is hard to accept your premise. Yes their must be a place to show topics or works of arts - no matter how controversial it may seem, so that we would know, that even in a country such as ours, there is still a freedom of expression. But some films, specifically the newer ones to be shown at UPFI are just work of people exploiting people. I believe in the freedom of expression, but what these films shows is the negative image that society at large claim what the gay community stands for. It removes what respect the community has gained with the general public. Lewdness to the point of pornography is not art, Larry Flynt may have used that idea of freedom of expression, but even in his own circle, he is not respected or adored as his contemporary - Hugh Hefner. Works by good independent film directors are now put in the same light as the two or three directors who actually shown a soft-porn film in UPFI, specifically - Sagwan, which started this debate/debacle.

I read your blog regularly & I think you as an honest & objective movie lover, but I think even in a free community as the gay community self-control is needed.

Do continue reviewing as I respect most of your POV about gay movies. More power & peace

stevie said...

The line between art and pornography has been stepped on so often, there is hardly a line anymore.

Censorship has no place in a democratic society where free speech is guaranteed. But, we're talking about UP here. It's the state university where many of the country's storied intellectuals and great minds come from. (I'm no UP grad.) A film screened exclusively there may be giving it some prestige and a sort of endorsement. We need both bad and good films, art and pornographic films and whatever adjective you may attach to it, but they need not have their over hyped premieres at UP. The way the buzz some of these films generate, with words like full frontal, uncut, torrid kissing between young x actor and sexy y model, you are obviously going to attract a crowd more interested in libido stimulus than an intellectual discourse or an artistic uplift. I believe the original intention of that UP theater is to show art, foreign and other non-commercial, non-mall movies, giving local filmmakers and cineastes a chance to watch, learn and experience true cinema. I think some of those films are getting their share of screen time but with less attention. Mr. Hernando may have a point.

bogs said...

I am a graduate of UP, and the whole thing doesn't bother me that much. Thank goodness, the UPFI manages to rise above the occasion.

As for the quality of such gay indie films, we have to admit, most are really crap. Some stereotype the whole gay culture, some sensationalize our whole existence, others settle for mere uncalled-for frontal nudity.

I am not playing my Pilate card. I just want want better films. I do hope that UPFI screens its movies though, we dont want to see the demise of the whole indie industry, and drag UPFI with it.