Monday, September 11, 2006

Positively No Filipinos Allowed?

[From the UCLA Asian Institute posted 09/07. A concise article on the history surrounding the video. The article also mentions the open letter (my emphasis added).]

Positively No Filipinos Allowed?

Positively No Filipinos Allowed?
Patricio Ginelsa directing Apl. Photo credit: Sthanlee B. Mira.

Black Eyed Pea and director Patricio Ginelsa's latest Tagalog video "Bebot" gets the cold shoulder from its label and MTV.

Booty shorts. Slinky halters. Flashy rides. Break dancin’. DJs scratchin.’ And an emcee rappin’ about hot chicks to some fine hip hop ‘til you don’t stop beats. Normally, it’s a fool-proof formula for earning heavy rotation on MTV. That is, until the video’s main posse rolls up in Jeepney (a colorful bus popular in the Philippines) instead of Benz and the only graffiti that flashes the screen is “I love the Philippines.” And well, there’s just a whole lot of Filipino faces in the crowd and OMG, they’re not speaking English, are they? Suddenly, you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore and this isn’t your average greased up girls and bling bling rap video.

The video is the Black Eyed Peas’ latest project, “Bebot: Generation Two.” And it’s one of two videos for Philippine born rapper’s Tagalog dance track “Bebot” [“Hot Chick”], off the 2005 multi-platinum album Monkey Business. “Inspired by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thing,” “Bebot: Generation Two” begins with being picked up by his Peas bandmates for a night of tasty barbeques and hot house parties. The only problem is that Apl’s mom forces him to take along his little sister, American Idol finalist Jasmine Trias. “I wanted to portray APL not just as your big superstar, but as your big brother,” said “Bebot” director Patricio Ginelsa. “I call him Kuya [big brother in Tagalog] Aps.”

“Generation Two’s” counterpart, “Bebot: Generation One” pays homage to parties in 1930s Little Manila. The video follows, an asparagus farmer, as he leaves the toil of the fields for a night of diversion at the Filipino Rizal Social Club. Inside the club, well-dressed Filipino men in snazzy suits swing dance with a diverse crowd of beautiful women in cocktail dresses and pearls while other men gamble at a rowdy taxi dance hall next door. “In a sense, nothing has really changed, everyone’s still trying to, after their 9-5 gigs, put on their best clothes and meet ladies,” remarks Ginelsa. Like “Generation Two,” “Generation One” also brings in some familiar Filipino artists such as Next Phaze, the Speaks, as well as DJs E-man and Icy Ice.

Independently funded, both videos mark “Bebot” director Ginelsa and rapper Apl’s attempt to push Filipino culture and music out from under the rug and into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, both videos are currently confined to Internet play, at least in the United States. Ginelsa, with the blessing of the Peas, released “Generation One and Two” on August 4th on YouTube—an internet haven for homegrown and indie videos. Since then, the videos have only been requested by MTV Canada and MTV CHI, according to Ginelsa. In fact, although the Black Eyed Peas website boasts of a MTV news exclusive about “Bebot,” watching the actual news clip reveals that the presentation was specifically an MTV CHI exclusive – even if American VJ Sway delivered the news.

While American MTV usually welcomes projects from the Grammy winning Peas, with TRL premieres and guest appearances —think the massive airplay (and sometimes overplay) for hits like “My Humps” and “Don’t Phunk with my Heart”—, they haven’t given a single shout out to either of the “Bebot” videos. American MTV audiences might be used to seeing the occasional Latin music video, but those videos tend to be predominantly in English a la Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca” or Enrique Iglesia’s “Bailamos.”

So what happens when the video, though mainstream in motif, has completely non-English lyrics, and a predominantly Asian cast? Is America ready?

America wasn’t ready when Ginelsa and the Peas released “The APL song” video in 2003. ”The APL song” (Elephunk, 2003) is’s Filipino love ballad and its video focuses on the plight of an elderly Filipino War veteran. Dante Basco and Joy Bisco, whom Ginelsa met while producing the Filipino American flick The Debut, acted in the video alongside Chad Hugo (The Neptunes).

Although “The APL song” was funded and distributed by the label unlike “Bebot,” it still got very little mainstream exposure. The label only released the video in Asia, where the Peas were touring. In America, Ginelsa’s independent campaign to get the video on TRL earned “The APL song” a few precious seconds on MTV, but that was pretty much it. “Vanessa Minnillo gave us props in front of MTV, so for three or four seconds, we were on national TV. And what people don’t know is that the following week when the Black Eyed Peas were guests on TRL, they showed ten seconds of the video.” In the end however, Ginelsa admits, “the video never got any American airplay except for independent channels and online. It became one of the most viewed videos online, but it never got any play on MTV or VH1 or BET.”

And three years later, history appears to be repeating itself. Interscope, the Peas label, still doesn’t think America or MTV for that matter is ready for Filipino music videos. So even though “Bebot”’s videos are undoubtedly more mainstream than the “APL song”’s video, the label has refused to front any money towards the creation or promotion of “Bebot.”

“What does MTV-friendly mean?” questions Ginelsa. “Christina Aguilera has her videos that are set in the 1930’s. Is it because of all the social commentary in Generation One that gets people all scared? But all the best hip hop videos you remember from Wu Tang Clan to Public Enemy always had social commentary. That was always the root of hip hop. Is it because it’s Filipino?”

However, it’s hard to say that “Bebot”’s absence from mainstream is solely racial. Yes, it’s unusual to see Filipinos plastered on U.S. T.V. screens, but even Ginelsa admits, “It’s really a market thing.” He explains, “Right now, our community has never been established as a market that can make a lot of money. It’s a game of people’s agendas and right now the agenda is Fergie.” Fergie, whom Ginelsa calls “the eye candy of the Peas,” has a new album, which is leading the Billboard top 100 charts. And let’s face it, “Bebot”’s album Monkey Business is already a year old.

With the Black Eyed Peas busy on tour, Fergie pushing a solo project, and their label turning a cold shoulder, Ginelsa is almost single handedly promoting the “Bebot” videos. Grassroots style, he began an online campaign to get the videos on VH1. Ginelsa has also screened the projects at various festivals and club events, marketing the projects mainly to “the core” or rather the Filipino and Asian American community, before reaching out to the mainstream. “The thing is for me to get as many companies asking the label about it so hopefully they understand that there’s an audience for this,” Ginelsa said.

“In reality, I’m not even supposed to be doing any of this pushing stuff, but I want to make sure that the video has a life outside of YouTube because you have to watch it the way it was created. You watch it on YouTube and it’s crappy resolution or it’s off sync,” Ginelsa said. “This video has to air on TV. I think it’s time that people see it for what it is, and see our culture.”

Is it a realistic request though? Ginelsa believes that the video boasts universal stories, even with its Filipino cultural focus. “No one who watches Boyz in Hood goes in there saying, ‘I have to be black to watch that,’” he told me. But as much the director would like to see the video on the small screen and as much as he has spent the last couple of weeks worrying about the video’s reception, he is still sensible in his expectations of the label and mainstream media. He admitted, “I knew already that I was going uphill because if you don’t have the label’s backing, there’s no way they’re going to push it.”

And Ginelsa knew this from the moment he fought to make the project.

One year ago, the Black Eyed Peas’ label planned to make a video for “Bebot” using Ginelsa’s original treatment— a socially conscious video that reflected on 1930s Little Manila in Stockton, California. They even offered him a small budget. However, just a few days before the film shoot, the project didn’t receive the greenlight necessary to continue. “Because people had other ideas of what to do with the video, we got shut down to the point where they told me, ‘Oh we’ll get back to you,’ but no one got back to me,” Ginelsa said.

Someone else had offered a more mainstream treatment for the “Bebot” project—presumably with more skin and more booty shaking. “Sex sells,” as Ginelsa bluntly admits. “What’s the main goal with a music video? It’s to the sell records.” So the label chose the more marketable version over Ginelsa’s. However, this version fell through as well.

When Ginelsa realized that that video didn’t go through, it became his obsession to snatch the project back. “I’d rather be responsible and do this project my way than have someone else do it a more exploitive way,” he explained. “I don’t care if I take the burden of doing it because I know what I’m getting myself into.”

At this point however, the label had lost interest not only in Ginelsa’s original treatment, but in the entire “Bebot” project. A determined Ginelsa still urged the label to reconsider letting him direct the project. He struck a compromise between his idea of a historical video and their request for a more mainstream treatment in hopes of convincing them. “Basically I told them I was going to do both versions of the video for this certain amount and they were like “Really?’ and they didn’t have to pay anything. I told them I was going to get the sponsorships to pay for it. I hustled it. I played the game.”

One year after the 2005 debut of the Peas’ album Monkey Business and the original shooting date for “Bebot,” Ginelsa finally completed the videos under the restraints of a small budget and band requirements.

Originally, Ginelsa envisioned a much more socially provocative video for “Generation One.” Little Manila in1930’s Stockton was a site of anti-miscegenation and anti-immigration laws and the director wanted to capture this oppression with images of cops swarming and shutting down the Filipino dance party. However, come shooting time, Ginelsa had to scale down his plans to an opening shot of a sign that reads “Positively No Filipinos allowed,” and a pair, rather than a swarm, of cops infiltrating the party. He stressed that he had to keep some remnants of this repressive reality in the video. ”I wanted to establish what the mentality was like back then socially,” said Ginelsa. “Even though you’re in this space where Filipinos are accepted, this is their private place, there’s still some sort of outside influence that tried to keep them at check.”

“It’s common for music videos to always talk about the 1930’s and the style, but I always thought that was just an excuse for Usher to put on the best clothes that he can. I like to do that too, but also give some sort of historical structure to it that people don’t necessarily know about it,” Ginelsa said. “And even though it’s not historically accurate, as long as it gets at least one person interested in trying to learn more about it, then I did my job. I mean that’s where the whole social responsibility of my filmmaking comes in.”

Ginelsa also found his creative freedoms restricted by the Peas’ request for a more mainstream treatment for “Generation Two.” Although Ginelsa knew he had to follow the band’s request for hot cars and hot girls, he made sure that there was no alcohol in the video. In fact, his actors hold chicken adobo and presumably soda in plastic cups in their hands rather than flutes of cristal. He also told the girls to dress up like they normally would to go to a house party. “Bebot” might mean “hot chick” in Tagalog, but the director wanted the girls to be more than just “eye candy.”

Furthermore, Ginelsa didn’t want to restrict the significance of the term “Bebot.” “I wanted to make sure that word wasn’t just a Filipino thing, that it also meant all kinds of races, but not just about females, but to make it like a hip word, like cool—Like it means hot, crazy, cool.”

Ultimately, Ginelsa wanted to send a greater message about diversity through the video. “The only scene that I really imagined from the get go was the scene in the backyard where it becomes this celebration of culture,” said Ginelsa. The scene presents a youthful crowd in colorful hip hop gear, pumping their fists in unison as’s shouts “Sige!” “If you look at that scene carefully,” Ginelsa told me, “There’re blacks, whites, Hispanics in that one crowd. For me, that was the statement of the whole video.”

But as much as Ginelsa wanted the videos to reach audiences inside and outside of the Filipino community, he still faces a lot of obstacles in doing so. For one thing, he might have completed the videos, but he hasn’t finished paying for them. “You can’t even tell me I sold out,” he said. “I’m still in debt.” Ginelsa even admitted that he contributed funds that Apl doesn’t know about.

Of course, the golden question now is, did it all pay off?

While Black Eyed Peas fans and Filipino Americans have bombarded internet message boards with praise, particularly for “Generation Two,” Ginelsa hasn’t heard much from anyone out of his niche audience. Then again, that’s because “Bebot” remains absent from their TV screens. But mostly, Ginelsa has been particularly bothered by the recent criticisms of his videos’ portrayal of women from members within the Filipino community. A group of prominent Californian Asian and Filipino Studies professors wrote a public letter to Ginelsa after the “Bebot” videos premiered on August 4th, stating that Ginelsa reduces Filipinas to “hoochie mamas” who are objectified by Filipino “playas.”

Ginelsa defended his videos saying, “I’m just glad that ‘Gen Two’ turned out the way I wanted to rather than what I know it could have been. So people can misread it and say this and that and it was my intention to portray them as negative or as whores or whatever. I’m always aware of the responsibilities I have as a filmmaker.”

However, Ginelsa remains distressed over the snappy online debate provoked by the letter. “Even though there’s a lot of healthy dialogue, people start getting defensive and people start attacking each other,” said Ginelsa. “So now it looks like now this video is provoking this internal thing within our community that I didn’t want to begin with. Why couldn’t we have a more controlled and healthy dialogue about this?”

Perhaps Ginelsa can rest assured that any publicity is good publicity, even if it is bad, especially considering the lack of attention from the label and every other major music channel. That said, Ginelsa is trudging ahead and continuing to promote “Bebot” in spite of the obstacles he faces inside and outside of the Filipino community.

“It’s all baby steps,” Ginelsa said. “We got the video made, that was an important step. What else can I do? I’m a small player.”

For now, Ginelsa plans to independently release the “Bebot” videos on DVD, but he’s not entirely sure yet. What he is sure about is that he’s going to need a lot of consumer support to show the label and the mainstream world that these videos do have importance in America.

“I always joke around, ‘Bootleg a movie like Glitter,’ but when it comes down to independent Asian American films, even a movie like Harold and Kumar, buy it,” says Ginelsa. “In the end, investors want to see returns on their films, and if we live in this mainstream mentality of waiting for DVD or bootlegging, then it really defeats the purpose.”

“Buying a ticket to our movie is like voting, like telling Hollywood, ‘Hey make more videos about our community,’” said Ginelsa. “That for me is a more powerful statement. Face it, we do live in a Caucasian world.” Or perhaps he meant a corporate one.


Blogger ver said...

Thanks for posting this!--I think it's a solid, balanced article. Although they really should say "a respected group of academics and one Ver-person...," dontcha think? *grin*

9/12/2006 6:46 PM  
Blogger tsismosa said...

I don't understand the writers of the open letter. As Patricio pointed out, it was rather perplexing to have something out in the open about his work without anyone approaching him FIRST. From my understanding, many people absolutely love the videos and disagree very much with the "undersigned". But then I read all the comments on this blog-- where the open letter is discussed, criticized, and argued against-- and the commenters are the "undersigned" themselves! It's almost as if they are trying to extract the foot in their mouths. Because now that it's out in the open and they find it was not well received, they cannot take it back.

I came across the videos in August because I just really liked the song. To my surprise, I found two very well-crafted and thoughtful music videos about Fil-Am culture from the past and present. I was so excited that I forwarded them to my family and friends, touting it as both entertaining and educational. "Booty shaking" aside, it showed windows to our history that no young Filipino will know of unless they enrolled in an APA Studies course (not available until college). Sure, our parents can educate us, but tell me how many average Filipino parents sit their kids down to tell them that Filipinos started out as migrant workers who were shunned by society?

Add that to the fact that it has good beats and good lyrics, backed by a highly visible group of mainstream artists... well, it was a proud moment for me as a Filipina.

So, when some friends directed my attention to this hoopla, I was dismayed. If you love something and you want to show your support, then you don't write an open letter pointing out every single weakness and fault. You charge through and help a fledgling indie work by promoting it. You look for ALL of its strengths and you shout out your pride that a fellow Filipino has created a work of progressive art. You don't write an open letter then try to defend it as a diplomatic outreach of any sort.

As for the (mis)representations of women in the video, I don't think for one second that Patricio sat down and said, "I MUST have a virgin, a whore, and a shrill mother in my video." The characters in the video can easily be interchanged with all black or all Latino characters: the mother who wants to make sure everyone is fed, the shy sibling who wants to tag along, and yes, the hot girls that all guys hope to encounter at parties. To accuse the makers of the video to have deliberately included those stereotypes is purely insane.

To end, I do apologize for the long-winded argument (because it *is* an argument *for* the videos) but I tried to e-mail Patricio directly and could not because I am not a myspace member...

9/13/2006 5:21 PM  
Blogger ver said...

First off, I think you're misreading the intention of this blog. We're not "extracting the foot" in our mouths. This is a place to collect the opinions—all the opinions—that have popped up around cyberspace and in the media. It's not supposed to be a place where we post only those opinions that support ours (because, um, how could that be a dialogue?!). Most of these posts are excerpts from comments found elsewhere.

Second, I still don't get the argument that those who signed the letter should have first had secret talks with Patricio. The video was "out in the open"; the letter was "out in the open." Pretty basic. When someone writes a book review, for example, they don't first sit down for a chat with the author.

I am, for one, extremely sorry that Patricio's feelings were hurt, and I expressed that to him. But I also believe that someone who puts his work out there needs to have thicker skin.

Third, the letter was not written to be "well received." It was written to express an opinion and to open up a dialogue.

Finally, I just want to say that if the Generation 2 video made you proud to be a Filipina, I think that's great. It just didn't do the same for me.

9/13/2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger tsismosa said...

Your letter put Patricio and his colleagues on the defensive, and that does not promote healthy dialogue. Second, how does a group of writers, academics, and one professor from a film institute, make for a group of experts on this subject? I completely understand the premise of your letter, but the format you chose just wasn't appropriate. I can see it as a topic for a forum or panel on the progression of Fil-Ams in the media, ending with the note that "we still have a long way to go," with regards to the misrepresentation of women. I can also see it being included in Asian-Am curriculum. But I don't see it as deserving a public lashing in the form of an open letter.

I have been following Filipino representation in the mainstream, and this was a breakthrough. If you listened to the director of The Debut and really listened to his ambitions for what the film was intended to do, you would excuse (and I have) that it was not the best made film on earth. Heck, it didn't even hold a candle to the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, who are blowing everyone else out of the water in film. But you know what, I paid the price for my movie ticket, I bought the CD, I ordered DVDs to give away, and spoke nothing but praise for the film in order to PROMOTE a fellow Filipino.

The great changes you call for in your open letter takes a collective group making great efforts to change the face of Filipinos in America. But in order to do that, you've got to put Filipinos on the map. And Patricio and APL have done that singlehandedly through BEP. Actors like Dante Basco didn't do it, movies like The Debut didn't do it either.

Given all this and knowing about Patricio's sacrifices in order to bring the videos to fruition, you STILL give him an ingratiatingly harsh open letter?

In the publishing world, there's Jessica Hagedorn who exploded with Dogeaters. I was never very fond of her writing and neither were my peers, but we were thankful enough that she existed. Books are out in the open as well, where were the open letters to her? To tell her that she romanticized the disgusting parts of the Philippines? Or how about to other Filipino writers, who fill their books with juxtapositions of sex and Catholicism? Where are their open letters? Or do you only have to unintentionally misrepresent women to deserve an open letter?

Filipino writers have been carving spaces for themselves in the publishing mainstream beginning with Hagedorn over a decade ago, but we still give them much allowances because they are pioneers. Patricio is a pioneer as well, in his realm, so how come he doesn't get allowances? He called his project "taking baby steps," so why don't you reach out and hold his hand instead of swatting it away?

Nice of you to pat me on my head for feeling proud and for apologizing to Patricio for hurting his feelings, but it's a little late and it isn't your place to condescend. There are more of me than there are of you, as I'm sure you have read in the sentiments expressed on Patricio's myspace blog.

9/14/2006 6:47 AM  
Blogger ver said...

One could argue about whether or not my comments (which are genuine) are condescending, but there's no question at all about your being unnecessarily rude, as proven in your brilliant blog post here. "Old crabs?" "Talk out of their ass?" "Stick it back up where the sun don't shine?" Must be pretty easy to throw that stuff out when you're faceless and nameless.

You have no idea—truly no idea—how many people agree with the points made in the Open Letter. They are just exhausted by the level of hostility that people are bringing into what could be a productive discussion. It's difficult to deal with folks who respond to a letter into which we put much careful thought and which is clearly written with appreciation for Patricio's past work, with plain old, off-the-cuff, don't-even-actually-discuss-the-issue hating.

I don't have an answer for your complaints about Jessica Hagedorn, as I find her quite brilliant. But as for your suggestion that people need their hands held as they venture into the mainstream? Now, that's condescending.

I also want to add that I find it ironic and sorta hilarious that you take issue with the juxtaposition of sex and Catholicism in the work of Filipino authors, but none at all with the fact that a porn star in a music video does wonders for your Filipina pride.

And now, in all seriousness, I want to thank you for taking part in this discussion. If nothing else, our disturbingly petty exchange has helped me to solidify my opinions and to realize just how much work there is for me to do as a writer, a mother, and Pinay.

9/14/2006 12:43 PM  
Blogger tsismosa said...

You are quite a nitpicker, aren't you? As a writer you should understand not everything someone writes is literal. You can argue the value of your open letter to your hearts' content, and be as exacerbated with me as you wish, but at the end of the day I am still not the one who wrote a point-by-point manifesto of a work created by someone I respected.

9/14/2006 2:08 PM  

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