Maymay Entrata’s role on MMK sparks concerns over diversity on TV

March 27, 2019 - 4:10 PM
Maymay Entrata in MMK
Maymay Entrata in "Maalaala Mo Kaya" as Judith Manap, an Aeta who joins a beauty pageant contest in their village. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos)

The portrayal of Maymay Entrata as an Aeta in the upcoming episode of “Maalaala Mo Kaya” prompted questions on the entertainment industry’s lack of diversity when it comes to actors.

The longtime-running drama anthology released its teaser for its next episode to be aired on March 30, Saturday with the hashtag “#MMKBusilakNaKorona.”

It tells the story of Judith Manap, an Aeta who joins and wins a village beauty pageant held in Mariveles, Bataan.

Entrata plays the lead role and has her skin artificially darkened to look like an Aeta, along with other actors like Mara Lopez and Mercedes Cabral.

While the story aims to portray an inspiring tale of confidence and determination through the character of Judith as played by Entrata, some social media users were not too keen on the idea of her playing the part.

They accused the program of doing “blackface” or the act of a fair-skinned person artificially darkening his skin color to portray a specific type of role.

The term “blackface” has its grim roots in slavery. Caucasians used to darken their skin tone in performances to make fun of Africans who were enslaved in the 19th century.

The program’s episode, based on the trailer and the premise, did not seem to make fun of Aetas. However, it casts a non-Aeta individual to play the role of an Aeta.

This prompted some Filipinos to point out that there appeared to be a lack of diversity in terms of hiring actors who are able to properly represent different types of people, specifically those from other indigenous groups.

“I also saw someone here asking if we have Aeta actors. This is where the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry comes in. They should start recruiting more people na galing sa iba’t ibang ethnicity to avoid this in the future,” Twitter user @lumalabanj wrote. 

Another user claimed that if the program genuinely wanted to tell stories of the marginalized sector, it should be able to cast actual members of the sector itself.

“I mean, if you really want to tell stories of marginalized people truthfully, don’t make it commercialized (casting famous actors para bumenta sa masa) Take time to look for actual ACTORS that embody actual representation,” Twitter user @rxnze said. 

Authentic Aetas onscreen 

An independent film in 2016 was able to hire actual Aetas in its story. “Paglipay” by Zig Dulay casts two members of the indigenous group, Garry Cabalic and Joan de la Cruz.

The film tells the story of a teenage Aeta, Atan, who perseveres to fulfill the necessities of his arranged marriage with a childhood friend Ani, but not without its challenges.

Cabalic and De la Cruz both won awards for their portrayal of Atan and Ani, a feat that was greatly praised by film critics.

Critic Fred Hawson in a review described Cabalic’s acting as “very natural,” citing that the “honesty and sincerity” of the actor’s performance “effectively” drew him into the story. He wrote:

“Being a real Aeta, Garry Cabalic was a very natural actor as he took on the lead role of Atan. His inexperience in acting is quite evident in several scenes, but that was actually part of his charm.”

“The honesty and sincerity of his subdued performance effectively drew me into the simple story of the film. These were also the very factors that won him the awards, despite his being a neophyte amateur actor.”

“The same is true with the even rawer Aeta actress Joan de la Cruz, who played Ani.”

The movie won several awards in the ToFarm Film Festival such as Best Picture, Best Director (Zig Dulay), Best Actor (Garry Cabalic), Best Cinematography and People’s Choice, among others.