Team of ‘1521’ movie expresses gratitude amid criticisms vs viral trailer

June 6, 2023 - 4:29 PM
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1521 trailer_screengrab
Screengrab from the trailer of the "1521" movie featuring Bea Alonzo as Diwata (Screengrab from inspireonewithfrancisho7307/YouTube)

The team behind the talked-about period movie starred by Kapuso actress Bea Alonzo thanked Filipinos amid the criticisms its trailer has received online.

The trailer of the period romance film “1521” was released on Thursday, June 1, which sees the fair-skinned actress play the role of Diwata, a Filipina in pre-colonial Philippines who falls in love with the translator of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan.

The backdrop of their story features the epic clash of Filipinos and Magellan’s Spanish forces in Mactan, Cebu more than 500 years ago. This clash eventually takes the navigator’s life.

The trailer of the English-language film begins with the text telling viewers that Spaniards are arriving in the yet-unnamed Philippine islands.

It then shows quick cuts of Magellan (Danny Trejo), his translator Enrique (American actor Hector David Jr) and first Filipino hero Lapulapu (Filipino-American actor Michael Copon), who eventually kills Magellan.

Bea’s character is later introduced, appearing to be infatuated with Enrique. This causes concern among her fellow natives.

The famous Battle of Mactan is also teased in the video, with Diwata and Enrique’s relationship depicted as caught in the middle.

The movie includes the participation of Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan who plays Ahmani, Diwata’s sister and Sol Eugenio, who plays a datu or a Filipino chieftain.

“1521” is a collaboration between Copon — who is also its director — and US-based Filipino producer Francis Lara Ho.

The production of the period romance happened in Palawan, the home province of Lara Ho.

According to him, they were able to replicate the period setting more accurately in the archipelagic province since Mactan looked “so modern now.”

“It would be tough to replicate the Battle of Mactan here with so much [modern distraction] in the background,” Lara Ho said to reporters last January.

Meanwhile, the movie’s trailer stirred an online buzz among Filipinos who had various opinions about the production.

Some expressed excitement, while others were more critical.

“A must-watch movie…. can’t wait to watch the whole movie!” a Facebook user said in the comments of the video post.

“Wowww, nakakataba ng puso,” another online user wrote with red heart emojis.

A different Filipino, meanwhile, questioned why the movie cast someone of mixed blood instead of a pure Filipina in the role of Diwata who is supposed to be a Visayan native.

Bea, among the lead actors, has a British father.

“Why a half-British white actress for the indigenous lead 1521 the movie??? She’s a great actress but casting is so wrong. Depiction is lacking consultation with archaeologists and historians,” a Filipina who studied Southeast Asian archaeology said in the comments.

“When you anchor a fictional movie in historical time and space, better get the environment, material culture, language, and casting according to [the] supposed phenotype right!!!” she added.

Others were concerned over how the movie depicted Filipino actors speaking in English instead of their own local language.

“The original setting is in Mactan Island in the Central Visayas. For the film to be realistic, hope the Filipino cast will [utilize] Cebuano or Visayan dialect… and subtitles be provided for non-Visayan viewers,” a Facebook user commented.

Some took offense at the costumes worn by the actors.

“My ancestors are again made to wear rags. Skimpy rags. A native princess? Rags. Bikini rags. What is this? A high-school recycling contest?” a Filipino wrote.

“And just one look at our indigenous peoples, our handwoven fabrics, and our museum collections already shows you how WELL-DRESSED we were prior to Westernization. We dressed in COLORS and PATTERNS and were decked in GOLD. And we KNEW HOW TO SEW AND TAILOR. We made thread out of GOLD,” she added.

Reports said that Visayan people during the pre-colonial Philippines were “modestly dressed,” “very clean,” and were “very fond of perfumes.”

“Both men and women wear their hair long, and fastened in a knot on the crown of the head, which is very becoming. The men tattoo their entire bodies with very beautiful figures,” a reported excerpt from the book “The Philippines at the Spanish Contact: Some Major Accounts of Early Filipino Society and Culture” says.

Others questioned why the movie appeared to romanticize colonization which included severely oppressing Filipinos.

“Why are y’all romanticizing colonization? Our women were raped,” a Filipino from Twitter said.

The movie, meanwhile, acknowledged the buzz it had been receiving.

It shared figures of the trailer’s million views on its Facebook page with the following excerpt of its caption:

“Groundbreaking #1521movie [n]ews! 3.4M views in less than 3 days! When the BAYANIHAN spirit flexes, the whole world notices!”

“Salamuch to ALL our beloved fans [and] supporters! Even to ALL our well-meaning critics, bashers, [and] naysayers! We hear you!”

The page has also been responding to some criticisms in the comments.

“Thank you for your honest [and] respectful feedback,” it replied to a critic commenting on Bea’s casting.

The page also responded to another critic who said that Cebuano or Visayan language be utilized in the film.

“Thank you for your honest and respectful comments,” the page said.

‘Not making a historical movie’

In a previous press conference, Lara Ho said that while the movie has a period setting, it still carries a fictional plot.

“It’s really more of a love story taking place in the context of the Battle of Mactan, so we don’t want people to misunderstand. We are not trying to distort Philippine history,” the producer said before.

Lara Ho compared the love story to Disney’s “Pocahontas” where a Native American woman and an English settler fall in love with each other.

The 1995 film has received criticisms for whitewashing “a horrific past,” “romanticizing” the real-life Pocahontas’ life and sugarcoating “the trauma Indigenous peoples faced through colonization.”

For their movie, Lara Ho said that they “would like to show a powerful love story that everyone in the world would want to watch.”

In another press conference, the producer said that their team “did a lot of research” to make “1521.”

“The good thing though is our production designers, our writers and our director read a lot, did a lot of research. We did consult a lot of historical experts. However, we want to make this very clear, we are not making a historical movie,” Lara Ho said.

“We are not talking ‘Bonifacio’ here, we are not talking ‘Goyo.’ This is really a love story, kinda like Pocahontas and Romeo and Juliet,” he added, referencing the historical locally-produced movies “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo” and “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.”

“We didn’t want to make a movie that is just about the battle in Mactan. This is more of a beautiful love story between Diwata and Lorenzo who are the heart and soul of the film,” Lara Ho added.

“1521” will premiere on the 125th anniversary of the Philippine Independence Day on June 12, 2023.