One proof that independent cinema is superior to mainstream television is their contrasting approaches to the issue of police raids on gay establishments.
TV news exposés have brainwashed generations into believing the police are the heroes, with images of them bravely ransacking gay bars, clubs, moviehouses, and bathhouses, pointing their heavy artilllery on unarmed persons. The other heroes are the mediamen, charging side by side with the cops, pointing their accusatory cameras at the defenseless, and reporting gallantly with flowery language that namedrops God and Morality.
How many of us used to believe (or still do) that gay establishments and gay patrons never should have been placed on this earth in the first place? Watching quasi-investigative shows like Imbestigador and XXX, how many of us ask questions about true legality, TV ratings, human rights -- and never get an answer?
Right now is a precarious time. It's Raid Season. Some say it's part of local and national police's attempts to rebuild their image after the embarassment at Luneta Grandstand -- sort of like a man who loses at a cock derby, so to reclaim his dominance, must go home and beat up his wife. Others say the police extortions are rampant once again because Christmas Season is around the bend; Money is of great need to government workers at this time every year. Last week, a movie theater in Manila got invaded. This week, a bathhouse in Pasay was looted, detaining 105 civilians, confiscating their cash and celphones.
When TV reports, we're quick to blame the gay establishments, their employ, and their owners. Or we say the gay customers deserve it. TV never mentions the truth about being gay in the Philippines: It's not illegal. They also leave out the roots of raids: Other establishments that pay the police to destroy the competition; TV news departments that need a ratings boost, so they co-opt the police to stage a new sensation; and most importantly, corrupt police thugs acting as robbers. Whose side is TV on? Beat reporters depend on their police sources for access, to make their job easier. The same can be said for police beat reporters of broadsheets and tabloids. How else will they get their news?
The beauty of movies is they don't depend on the police. At their best, they report the truth.
In the past, films like Sibak: Midnight Dancers depict police raids with little or no critique of it: It's part of life; It happens; We move on. We're blessed to be living in ever-enlightening times. Last year (2009), two movies offered important lessons. Now is a good time to revisit them.
Ang Laro Ng Buhay Ni Juan. In the friendly atmosphere of a gay club, the staff and patrons offer tip money to performer Juan, to help him for his trip home. When policemen raid the club, Juan naively pleads for mercy but not for his rights. When his money is taken away from him, we feel the blow of the robbery, and the loss of dignity.
Big Night. Cleverly deceiving us into thinking the villain must be the hot-tempered gun-toting manager of the girlie bar (not gay), the film shakes us at the last minute when the guns that are fired come from outside, the law enforcers. The tragedy drops the question: Who (or what) is the real enemy?
What does it say that both daring films are "indies"? Produced outside the narrow limitations of mainstream, indies are usually way ahead of studio fare in the integrity of ideas precisely because of their independent nature -- the higher power they answer to is seldom big money. As such, they're usually portends of new world orders. Just think of the anti-martial law films that were produced during martial law, before the larger middle class finally signed on. We're experiencing major injustices today in increasing levels of shamelessness, and a few good films are pointing it out for us. Maybe we're headed for positive change. Watch, listen, get angry, get involved, demand a better world.
"Know Your Rights: What the Police Can Or Cannot Do" at Discreet Manila