The steady, buzzing noise of murmurs and excited whispers can be heard from the ever-growing crowd. As they continue to wait in their respective seats, a loud boom suddenly crackles from the overheard speakers; fans break out into enthusiastic applause – they cannot wait any longer. Moments later, the star-studded cast of the newest local fantasy show Bagani steps out onto the stage for the promotion and fan meet, maintaining poise while in character, dressed head-to-toe in their intricate and well-crafted costumes. The brightness of the singular spotlight seemed to intensify, pointed directly at the show’s main characters, the up-and-coming favorite loveteam, famously known as “LizQuen”.
The power couple, comprised of Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil, has been working their way to the top of the ladder for quite some time now. Their first onscreen appearance dates way back to 2013, on the movie Must Be…Love, wherein Gil became the love interest to Soberano’s breakout role of playing third-party to the characters of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, a contemporary loveteam equally celebrated throughout Philippine media. With the success of the movie, more and more projects were lined up to propel LizQuen to further stardom. Two TV series and four film projects later, the couple’s newly slated show Bagani is reportedly about five ethnic groups and their conflicts and struggles to live together in harmony within the fantasy world of Sansinukob. Although the show had only just premiered, the ratings are in—and for what it’s worth, many had a lot to say.
Cultural accuracy and appropriation
Stepping into the roles of Lakas and Ganda was an easy feat for the good-looking stars. With their fair-skinned complexion and diversified heritage, Gil and Soberano make for quite the winsome pair, consequently adding a bigger “wow” factor to the show’s intended purpose of portraying the Filipino heritage and culture. By casting LizQuen, the message of Bagani is loud and clear—Filipinos have, and always will be, a hodgepodge of numerous cultural identities. Casting visibly mixed race celebrities showcases the melting pot of various ethnicities present within the country, proving that the Philippines is as diverse as it can get — every foreign race and culture is welcome to stay, since after all, Filipinos are famously known to be quite the hospitable bunch.
Although a pot full of various ethnicities and cultural identities, the country has always had a clear point and definition of being a Filipino for the most part. From the long list of national representations (e.g. national bird, national hero, etc.) to the unofficial habits Filipinos have done over the years, it was relatively clear how one could define the extent of being a true Pinoy; and Filipinos were mostly grounded on those ideas. Hence, if one knows how to say “Mahal kita” (I love you), then the person is welcome to the Pearl of the Orient Sea. And who does not love our very own historical special dish Sinigang? Who hasn’t tasted that dish in this country, really?
Therefore, no one can really question who should play which roles in a fantasy series. If someone loves the Philippines and practices basic Filipino habits, what’s stopping them? A country that prides itself with being hospitable should be open to anything. In portraying a folktale-inspired fantasy show, isn’t it better to cast people who are much more ethnically diverse to show just how hospitable and accepting the country and culture is? What is important is they know the basics. That’s it. The roles are open for everyone.
The new kids on the block
Besides KathNiel and LizQuen, another powerhouse loveteam took the Philippine show business by storm: They are James Reid and Nadine Lustre, who are more popularly known as “JaDine” by their fans. After being paired as a loveteam back in 2014 for the movie Ang Diary ng Panget, the couple has been on a steady rise to superstardom and have never once looked back. With a solid following behind their backs, one begins to wonder if JaDine has enough potential to become worthy adversaries to LizQuen in snatching up their lead roles in Bagani.
In JaDine’s case, Lustre, who can be identified as a morena, a tan-skinned Filipina, was paired with Filipino-Australian native Reid — who possesses a much whiter skin tone than the average Juan dela Cruz. On Lustre’s part, the starlet seems to be an easy qualifier for the female lead role, with a dazzling smile that makes others around her envious of her charm. On top of that, Lustre possesses naturally beautiful brown skin tone. Her off-screen romance with James, along with her complexion just goes to show how far the diversity of ethnicity in this country has come.
And so one must take a good look at her partner—James Reid. With a toned body easily overqualified for the role of Lakas on the show, Reid is on the higher pedestal in terms of competition when pitted against Gil—the original male lead. Besides, what better way to portray the character whose name is Lakas than by letting someone who is muscular take on the role? To top it all off, casting a mixed-race man who, at some point, can barely speak Filipino properly, further exhibits the acceptance and diversity of ethnicities in the country. Color aside, it’s fantasy anyways.
Worth the try
From KathNiel to LizQuen to JaDine, options are wide open for the casting of the new Filipino fantasy series Bagani. Looking at the basics of our culture, is there really a problem in casting someone who does not identify as moreno? As long as they do the usual Filipino habits, then maybe not. As the country itself is diverse in terms of regions, why not maximize everything by opening all opportunities to everyone regardless of their race? As said before, it’s 2018 — it’s time to show the best brand of a hospitable Filipino nation by erasing boundaries on who can do certain things, including casting in certain shows.
A few years from now, one thing is for sure: Filipinos might still remember a small little show named Bagani that caused such an uproar all over the Philippine Islands. But maybe a few years from now, the show will leave a lesson of acceptance for everyone regardless of their race. Maybe this show is set out to eradicate boundaries which were once there to divide a lot of us. Besides, how important is color, looks, etc. in portraying a folktale-inspired fantasy? Is it really that important? Folktales are dated and it’s time for the new era of erasing boundaries which our long history had built. This is now the revolution of erasure! How cool is that? Rest assured that whatever happens, Filipinos will still love Sinigang. And that is one thing that will never change.