A review of the film’s representation of women
By Paul Dawnson

A scene from 'Honor Thy Father'

A scene from ‘Honor Thy Father’

It’s another season of the Metro Manila Film Fest and what would it be without controversy? It practically lives for it. It’s a big farce. This year, ‘Honor Thy Father’, a late addition to the festival, was disqualified from the “Best Picture” category for some flimsy reason. Intellectuals everywhere cried foul, as if the film fest hadn’t been capitalist shit for years.

We went to see ‘Honor Thy Father’ instead of my suggestion, the rom-com ‘Walang Forever’ starring the ever reliable Jennylyn Mercado and the hunk of my dreams, Jericho Rosales (unless he’s speaking). My friends are Kapamilya. They wanted to see John Lloyd Cruz (famous for rom-coms, the official ‘boyfriend ng bayan’ before Maine Mendoza saved Alden Richards’ career) and as my friend put it, “Wala lang, feeling ko mas importante ako ‘pag ito ang pinanuod natin.”

Going in, these are what I gathered from seeing the trailer some time ago. The movie is some sort of commentary on organized religion, those in the same vein as Iglesia ni Cristo. John Lloyd is playing an out-of-type character. His character has a bald (semi-bald?) daughter, which I wrongly assumed was because of chemo (Was this an intentional misdirection in the trailer?). Father and daughter go to Bontoc, so it might be another film fetishizing North Luzon.

I didn’t know that it’s a crime drama and it’s the second collaboration between director Erik Matti and screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto after ‘On the Job’ (2013). I also didn’t know John Lloyd is credited as a producer.

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We were late to the screening by about five to 10 minutes. In the middle of the movie, I thought, everyone was right. It was a good “quality” film. It was tense, bleak, yet still riveting. But when the credits rolled, I had only one thought in my mind: this movie is sexist.

A little later, while snacking in a food-court nearby, when I had asked my friends to make sure I wasn’t just imagining its sexism, I thought, why haven’t I read anything on the internet commenting on this film’s sexism? Where is the “internet outrage” I see when American movies are as sexist as Honor Thy Father? I googled “Honor Thy Father sexist” and even searched Facebook and Twitter for it — nothing. So here I am, writing this, because these things need to be called out. Especially in well-praised, ‘quality’ films like Honor Thy Father.

Why do I think it’s sexist? On the surface, it’s how the men acted in this movie. There were Egay’s (John Lloyd) brothers and their aggression against being “under the saya,” or in American slang, “pussy-whipped.” You can let it slide in the name of “realism,” sure, but it’s still sexist.

On another level, it’s sexist because of its backwards representation of women. There were only three significant female characters in the movie (I’m not counting Yayo Aguila’s villain; she was barely a character, although it was fun seeing her as a goon) and they’re all poorly drawn or worse. Egay’s mother and daughter were there only to serve as motivation and moral support for Egay. Then there’s Egay’s wife, Kaye, who was at least played well by Meryll Soriano.

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Meryll brought Kaye’s character much needed sympathy. Kaye was a “damsel in distress,” a trope so overused in crime dramas and action movies rightfully derided as sexist—and not just after she was kidnapped by cartoonish villains in the third act — no — it was from the first act, when her father’s networking scam was exposed. She was written as a naïve fool, suicidal at worst, who needed her husband to save her and their family from the mess she believes she created and subsequently made worse.

If you think about it, the escalating conflict was not of her own doing. It was her father who started the networking scam and then decided to crash his Lexus into a creek when his crime was about to be exposed. And it was Egay and his pride who refused Kaye’s suggestion to go into hiding and insisted on staying in their house in Baguio even after the duped investors went berserk and ransacked the place, which eventually led to their daughter getting kidnapped and given a shakedown by way of a harsh haircut (it was not cancer after all).

Yet, the writing makes you want to blame Kaye. First, Kaye was shown so overwhelmed with desperation and guilt, that she almost kills herself in the bathroom, only calming down after Egay berates her. Then, Egay was shown berating her some more after their bishop refused to help them (Why agree to go in the first place if you thought it was a bad idea, Egay? Was is just to scope out the place for the money?). Further down the line, Kaye and her “katangahan” was literally used as the reason the antagonists tell Egay for doubling the money they demand. To drive the point home, Kaye was kidnapped as “insurance.”

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The film’s misogyny works so well, that just minutes after the screening, my friend asked, “What’s the point if Kaye just dies in the end?”—as if the whole exercise was meaningless if the boy can’t save the damaged girl after all. And when she got over the initial shock of the plot twist: “Oh well, it’s all Kaye’s fault anyway.”

Yes, Kaye works well as a metaphor for all Filipinos blinded by charismatic church leaders and the lure of easy-money through investment scams. In this view, it’s nihilistic for her to die in the end, or maybe it’s a precaution. But couldn’t have the point gotten across in another way? Was the metaphor worth the sexism?