By Boy Villasanta
During pre-colonial era in the Philippines, the spectacle was human or real-life and live drama among natives or indigenous communities from the north and the south – Aetas, Negritos, Tagalogs (from taga-ilog or those living near or by the rivers), Ifugaos, the Pampangos, Visayans, Muslims, and others.
Forms of local entertainment were mostly from rituals performed like chanting when beseeching heavens for rains for their crops, weeping custom in wakes and burials, thanksgiving dance in harvest time, rites of medicine men and babaylans, etc. Community folk watch out for these.
Termed as mimesis in modern theatre productions, these were imitations of what old folk and transients of that period exhibited.
Most amusement varieties during Spanish time were comedia, moro-moro and zarzuela. These genres were of Western influences and Oriental traditions.
Entertainment evolved. If the only-men entertainment of Japan, the Kabuki, persisted, women prevailed in Filipino theaters.
One of most popular of actresses at the time was Honorata de la Rama, or Atang de la Rama, a singer and a dancer.
Atang —later to be the wife of the progressive labor leader and literati Amado V. Hernandez—
is now National Artist for Theater.
Juana “Titay” Molina was perceived to be the quintessential professional rival of Atang. Titay, daughter of a painter and an impresario, was a soprano opera singer.
There existed a sharp contrast between Atang – as the purveyor of nationalistic music like the kundiman – and Titay, as the promoter of the opera which was of foreign origin.
Men In Centerstage
At the turn of the century, when the technology of the motion pictures was introduced by Westerners, men gained upper hand as film producers.
Titay got married to one, American filmmaker Edward Gross and was billed as the main lead of his films.
Atang was the star of Filipino producers like Jose Nepomuceno who made the first Filipino-silent flick, “Dalagang Bukid” in 1919.
As typified by Titay and Atang, Filipino women, remained in the sidelights for a long time.
They were “stars” who did not shine in the decision-making universe of the industry.
When Filipinas Shone
The American period paved the way for the moral ascension of Filipino women.
In an interview with actress Dina Bonnevie, she said that her maternal grandma, non-talkies star Rosita Rivera, was a victim of nasty rumors.
“Ang baba ng tingin sa mga artistang babae noon. Sabi ng lola ko, masamang babae ang image ng mga artista noon (Female movie stars at the time were looked down. My grandmother said the image of actresses then was bad),” disclosed Dina.
“Pero pinatunayan ng lola ko na walang masama sa pagiging artista (But my grandma proved to them that there was nothing wrong being an actress),” added Dina.
After her short-lived movie career, Rosita migrated to Switzerland.
Of Mestizas & Colegialas
Despite the condescension heaped on local actresses, there were still mestizas, carnival queens and colegialas and girls from the elite clans who wanted to be in the movies. So said Philippine movies great, Vicente Salumbides, in an interview in 1976.
Fil-Scottish sultry singer and vaudeville performer Elizabeth “Dimples” Cooper contributed to the change in the landscape of feminine role in the movies.
For a long time, conservatism instilled by the Catholic Church from the Spanish times, was still the norm even in the onset of the American colonialism.
New Morality: Kissing Scene
Bold and daring Dimples was disdained and scoffed at in the movie “Tatlong Hambug” where she had a kissing scene — the first screen kiss in Filipino movies — with leading man Luis Tuason.
It was written that Dimples was only fourteen years old when she did the torrid scene. Rumors had it that she later became General Douglas MacArthur’s apple of the eye.
Under American rule, local entertainment industry had a shift. Aside from predominant English education, there was also the “new morality”.
“Modern” American women wore one-piece swimsuits, kiss men torridly on and off-cam, speak their hearts out, and assert rights on important issues. Magazines that reached the country and movies shown here triggered curiosity and greatly influences local movie stars.
At this time, another milestone among Filipinas were reflected in the 1935 Constitution: They were allowed to vote. This brought a fierce sense of equality and independence.
Onscreen, this colonial independence were expressed by actresses like Mona Lisa, Lilia Dizon, and Paraluman, who dared wear one-piece swimsuits in films. That was the sexiest actresses could get in their period.
Carmen Rosales, tagged as the Queen of Philippine Movies after the Second World War, fought for “her rights” by commanding the kind of role to play.
Colegiala Rita Gomez and Amalia Fuentes, a Sampaguita Pictures contract artist, were vocal of their opinion on important issues, on and off-camera.
At the time, Dr. Jose R. Perez, Sampaguita’s top honcho, was stern in his rules that his stars should be discreet about their private lives. But Amalia did not heed and
flaunted in public her romance with actor Romeo Vasquez, who was presumed as a married man.
Another rebel-beauty, Charito Solis, exited LVN Pictures after her contract expired and did films under Nepomuceno Productions.
Nida Blanca and Gloria Romero, who reigned 50s and 60s cinemas, represented regional traits. Nida was the feisty Waray or a native of Eastern Visayas while Gloria was the fiery Ilocana.
Sampaguita Pictures mainstays Alicia Vergel, was a tisay action star, and Lolita Rodriguez, a morena drama actress.
Silver Screen Icons
Susan Roces was an icon of Filipina womanhood while silver screen archrival, Amalia, was the liberated one.
In later years, Alona Alegre defied the Maria Clara rule and plunged into the sexy genre, together with Gina Pareno. Loretta Marquez was a pious one. Half-bred Shirley Moreno, Blanca Gomez and Jeanne Young were teen Pinays. Rosemarie Sonora was the girl-next-door.
On radio, women were portrayed as neighborhood maidens. Susan was ang “Maganda Kong Kapitbahay” in DZXL. On TV, glitz and glam among actresses was hot order of the day.
Queenly and Pinay Beauties
Beauty title winners found their way to the big screen as goddesses of pulchritude like Pilar Pilapil, Gloria Diaz, Elizabeth Oropesa, and Margie Moran.
There were Charo Santos, Nelia Sancho, Maita Gomez who were tagged actresses-turned-activitists.
Lookers Divina Valencia, Stella Suarez, Rizza, Yvonne and their kind were sex goddesses who graduated to motherhood after the bomba era.
All these Hollywood copycats were defied by the ordinary-looking young stars like Nora Aunor, Esperanza Fabon, Perla Adea, Dolly Favorito, Rhodora Silva, Millie Mercado, and their ilk who showed more Filipino-ness that fans related and identified with.
Vilma Santos has the attributes of mestiza mold but was launched as the masa’s Star for All Seasons.
Nora Aunor was the Superstar.
Martial Law Stars
Nymphets, young and underage, were introduced in the 70s and Martial Law time, like the nubile Alma Moreno and Lorna Tolentino. They easily caught the eye of male chauvinists.
La Pilapil, who made headlines showing her unshaved armpits, cared less being tagged as a mistress.
At this time, teenyboppers like Maribel Aunor, Winnie Santos, Nancy de los Reyes, Pinky Montilla, Margie and Amalia Braza, Jingle, among others, took centerstage as models for poverty-stricken fans.
In the 80s, Sharon Cuneta came in as a scion of popular political clan while Maricel Soriano was the irrepressible, frank “taray” (bitch) in her sound bites people identified with to abolish the weakening institutions of sobriety and false urbanity.
Snooky Serna was the snail-paced Cinderella now runs as fast while Dina, Sharon, Cherie Gil, were the loquacious speakers who were outspoken on any issues in and out of the biz.
Lani Mercado was the pretty kayumangging kaligatan, while Gina Alajar emerged from being a child star to a full-blown woman; Rio Locsin was a chip of the old block in a generation of stars.
The restoration of democracy after the 1986 EDSA1 provided a new notion of feminine freedom with Gretchen, Rita, Rina Reyes, Rosanna Roces spearheading the ST (Sex Trip) trend.
Sensual bit actresses like Stella Strada, Claudia Zobel, Vida Verde, Maria Isabel Lopez, Lampel Cojuangco, Lala Montelibano, Didith Romero, Irma Alegre, and the likes audaciously exposed the female anatomy on screen in wild abandon.
Kris Aquino, daughter of EDSA1 star, was the epitome of the marriage between politics and showbiz.
Even the gender-bending concept of LGBT in the industry made much unease and caused a public furor. Aiza became Ice Seguerra and married Liza Diño. Internationally-acclaimed Charice Pempengco transformed to Jake Zyrus.
Faces of the Millennium
Social media and other pop media brought about the collective images of all-sexy sing-and-dance groups like D’Bodies, Viva Hot Babes, Baywalk Bodies, etc.
ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp’s Star Magic in the 90s had seen potentials in Kristine Hermosa, Bea Alonzo and Pauleen Luna.
The kinds of Kathryn Bernardo and Liza Soberano mirror beauty, charisma and sex appeal with young audience who appreciated, patronized, and tried to approximate them as models.
Iza Calzado, Angel Locsin, Agot Isidro, and Jennylyn Mercado are outspoken about feminism, freedom, gender equality and women’s emancipation from misogyny, sexual assault, and other abuses.
Nothing much could be attributed to the spiciness of Yam Concepcion, Meg Imperial and Ellen Adarna.
Looking back, today is a far cry from the docile, “domesticated” and passive women of the Spanish to pre-war times.
Thanks to the Hispanic friars who influenced societal morals branding women as household fixtures and the men deemed as overpowering and controlling.
After WWII and in the advent of international call for gender equality. Women got their voices heard and demanded equal footing.
Boy Villasanta has been an entertainment writer for television and print since the late 70s after graduating from the University of Sto. Tomas with a degree in Journalism.