Quarantined indefinitely, Filipinos this year brought to the mainstream something that their parents would not have seen on mainstream TV: BL or Boy Love. Finally, Philippine cinema is portraying queer relationships with kilig.
There is one BL film that got Gen Z and the millennials giddy: "Gaya sa Pelikula" or GSP which was written by Juan Miguel Severo and directed by JP Habac. On Twitter, gay men fired off threads about first love and heartbreak, inspired by GSP.
“There’s nothing new with GSP,” Habac told reportr.
“Ang bago lang dito: dalawang lalake yung naglalandian at nagmamahalan. Gusto lang naman namin ipakita na yung mga nangyayari sa mga hetero couples, nangyayari rin sa mga queer people,” he said.
It's time to take back our story
Heterosexual relationships are status quo in conservative Philippine entertainment. When members of the LGBT community get together, it's usually done in ways that are not representative of how they truly are, analysts said.
Gaya sa Pelikula was a chance to "take back our story," Habac said. "It’s about time for queer content creators to tell their own stories kasi long-overdue na siya."
From start to end, the makers of "Gaya sa Pelikula" knew what they stood for: rightful representation of the LGBT community in mainstream media.
"Nung nagkacast kami hindi sapat na magaling ka lang umarte, kailangan malakas ka rin na boses ng community. Yung kakayanan sa acting, madali nalang yun tignan eh. Pero what made it special talaga is yung interview process, we asked them what they stood for," he said.
Queer stories are not all about tragedy
Habac is most known for his 2017 romantic comedy film, "I'm Drunk, I Love You (IDILY)" starring Maja Salvador and Paulo Avelino. Like most filmmakers who share a part of them in the characters they create, Habac said Carson's tale of unrequited love was inspired by his own.
"Sa mga dati kong gawa, laging nakamask yung story ko sa mga characters na heterosexual," he said.
Habac graduated from the University of the Philippines where he sought to become a filmmaker. There he was exposed to stories about the LGBT community which he said often ended in tragedy.
"Laging may HIV or AIDS, or laging kami yung butt of the joke. Iyon yung kinalakihan ko na mga pelikula, so, feeling ko nung grumaduate ako, iyon yung normal," he said.
"Hindi ko sinasabing mali yun kasi pinapakita lang niya yung reality, pero habang tumatagal, narealize ko na kapag may nakapanood na isang batang queer ng puro ganitong mga pelikula, magkakaroon pa ba sila ng courage to go out and express their true selves?," he said.
Habac suggested to scriptwriter Severo that "Gaya sa Pelikula" should pay homage to classic Filipino romcoms with traditional female and male leads. As the title implied, it borrowed scenes from box-office hits such as "One More Chance" and "A Very Special Love" to show that meet-cutes are also possible for queer love stories. It's not always sad and tragic.
The Future is Queer
At present, there have been over 30 BL productions in the Philippines that were made during lockdown. Among the most popular are IdeaFirst Company's "Gameboys" and Black Sheep Productions' "Hello Stranger," both digital.
In 2018, Vulture tackled the idea of the LGBT film boom which often had the goal of "normalizing" queer stories.
"The political language around sameness — that “they” are just like “us” — moved out of the ballot box and into film. Part of this is a rhetorical strategy to sell movies to a heterosexual public," the piece said. It recalled how critically acclaimed LGBT films such as "Call Me By Your Name" promoted itself more as a film about family, rather than boy love.
"Eventually I want to get to the point where we’re watching movies and the story’s not about the fact that they’re gay, or about the fact that they’re black, or about the fact that they’re trans — they just are. And we’re just watching that person’s life. That’s how it becomes more normalized," actress and writer Alia Shawkwat told Vulture.
For Habac, the BL wave is proof that progress is being made in local queer cinema.
"I'm hopeful na makakapanood tayo tuwing hapon ng dalawang lalake na nagmamahalan, dalawang babae, dalawang trans, kahit ano basta nagmamahalan. I'm hopeful that there will come a time na rightfully represented yun sa mainstream media. Mahaba-haba pa yung laban pero nandito na tayo," he said.