Women can be strong and powerful in different ways. Filipino movies created subtly nuanced powerful female characters that remain iconic and well-remembered. These women are born out of continuous resistance against patriarchy, sexism, and tyranny. They would either wield weapons or defeat the bad guys or not. These women are brave, independent, and wonderfully complex. Aside from that, they are also empowering and inspiring.
OPINION: My 9 Favorite Empowered Female Characters in Filipino Movies
Nina Manigan | BUY BUST
A female lead in action movies remains scarce. That means Buy Bust is a rare beast. Director Erik Matti shows off his advocacy against extrajudicial killings. The movie revolves around an elite squad attempting to escape from a slum after a botched operation. It has visceral representations of death and destruction as the protagonist battle with crazed and zombie-like mobs trying to navigate her way to her survival.
Starring Anne Curtis as Nina Manigan, she portrays a rookie police officer who joined a new anti-narcotic elite squad of the PDEA. She survived the slaughter of her entire squad in a drug raid compromised by corrupt police officers. As the sole survivor, she becomes a one-woman team as she brawls back against groups of riots and gunfights. This proves that Filipina women can play a lead role in action movies.
Rosa Reyes | MA’ROSA
Ma’Rosa feels like a time capsule, capturing a scene in the past that showcases the nature of life in poverty. If the two main characters would have been accused of selling drugs, they wouldn’t just be captured. They would be slaughtered, thanks to the brutal unfairness of the current administration. Brillante Mendoza explores the possible consequences of a mother desperate to do everything in her power in a race-against-the-clock kind of urgency.
Starring Jaclyn Jose as Rosa Reyes, she forces her children to bail their parents out by paying off corrupt officers. Although she struggles with it, she lets her children compromise their own morals, and pay for the crime of their parents. Her acting, especially during the scene where she tearfully eats cheap street food, helped the film pack a greater emotional punch.
Horacia Somorostro | ANG BABAENG HUMAYO
Ang Babaeng Humayo has a clear-cut and concrete storyline about social injustice. This Filipino movie’s initial premise was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s God Sees The Truth But Waits. It essentially shows the story of the titular virtuous woman becoming tainted with cruel maneuverings of fate in a world where God and salvation do not exist. Set in 1997, she gets released after being imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit. She also learns that her husband has long passed and that her son went missing.
Starring Charo Santos-Concio as Horacia Somorostro, she tries to find her son with the help of her daughter but to no avail. She also learns that her former rich lover has framed her for the crime and tries to exact her revenge. Then, she realizes that one thing remains unchanged – the power and privilege of the elite. In an unexpected moment, her desperation leads her to a fit of rage and violence. Although she is a kindhearted person, she willfully loses her humanity in order to regain some control over her life.
Trisha Echevarria | DIE BEAUTIFUL
Die Beautiful shows us the hidden but obvious truths behind LGBTQIA+ people growing up in a homophobic household. Filipinos remain tolerant of the LGBTQIA+ community but never accepting. This Filipino movie greatly insists that transgender women are women, just like transgender men are men. Their lives remain plagued with hardships, discrimination, and sometimes even violence. Since we live in a Catholic-dominated country, it remains a positive thing that such a movie exists.
Starring Paolo Ballesteros as Trisha Echevarria, she leaves home and gives herself a new name. Then, she struts down runways to fulfill her dreams of being crowned a queen. At present, Trisha has already died as a newly crowned Binibining Gay Pilipinas. Throughout the movie, we see Trisha living an extraordinary life as she picks herself up every time she falls. Despite everything she goes through, she continues to love and accept the people around her while she lives her life on her own terms.
Bobbie Salazar | FOUR SISTERS AND A WEDDING
Four Sisters and a Wedding often counts as a romantic-drama-comedy fo family relationships. Displaying the story of siblings who have grown apart, the Salazars learn what it takes to make them grow together again with love and forgiveness. However, we never really focus on how empowered and inspiring the women in this Filipino movie can be. Sisters Teddie, Bobby, Alex, Gabbie, and even their mother Grace show off different types of femininity that we can all relate to.
My favorite would be Bea Alonzo as the iconic Bobbie Salazar. As the second child of the family, I can relate to her drive for excellence in everything she chooses to do. Often misunderstood by her sisters, she has always been envious of her siblings’ unique traits. This makes her strive even harder to win her mother’s attention and approval. She displays a high sense of responsibility when she goes to New York not only for herself but also for her family to support them financially due to the growing expenses of their mother’s medication.
Laida Magtalas | IT TAKES A MAN AND A WOMAN
It Takes a Man and a Woman is the third movie in an unlikely trilogy of romantic stories, looking further into the relationship of Miggy Montenegro and Laida Magtalas. The movie takes very different aspects of their romance. The first movie follows their cutesy courtship and the second, then, brings a wave of seriousness as it shows the characters drifting apart. The third movie, on the other hand, explores the idea of betrayal and forgiveness, putting them under the shadow of an unforgivable act.
Starring Sarah Geronimo as Laida Magtalas, she started out as sweet, innocent, and always positive. She gets a job in Canada and a year into their long-distance relationship, they suffer their own personal crises. However, Miggy cheats on her in a moment of weakness, making her scathed and hardened. Laida returns stronger and wiser as a second version of herself. The movie ends with the third version of Laida who was even stronger and wiser but also courageous enough to forgive and fall in love again.
Commander Liway | LIWAY
Based on a true story and set in the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship, Liway comes from the point-of-view of the film’s director. Dakip “Kip” Oebanda tells the story of the time that he lived in a prison camp when he was just a young boy. The Filipino movie became a son’s love letter to his mother. This easily became the most popular film of Cinemalaya 2018, earning the title of the top-grossing Cinemalaya film of all time. Although the movie declares their love for the country, it remains tender and urgent.
Starring Glaiza de Castro as Commander Liway Oebanda, she tries her best to shield him from the trauma of a political prisoner’s life in order to give him a normal upbringing. As Marcos’s dictatorship becomes more unstable and the future of their lives becomes more uncertain, Liway has to weigh Dakip’s best interests against ht prospect of never seeing him again. The movie also shines a light on female empowerment during the Marcos regime, paralleled with the forced maturity of a child born and raised in captivity.
Maya | BIRDSHOT
Birdshot remains one of the most thought-provoking thrillers. The movie displays that human life is too cheap and expendable. The well-being of one of the Philippines’ endangered and treasured national eagles, however, is a completely different matter. In the movie, harming the animal remains an act worth marshaling official firepower and even killing for. It also displays an effort of haunting contemplation and troubling beauty. A father-and-daughter duo oversees the land surrounding the nature reserve instantly raises suspicion – and rightfully so.
Starring Mary Joy Apostol as Maya, she attends a quick self-defense lesson in using a gun from her father Diego. She shoots a bird down in an effort to showcase her prowess, not realizing exactly what she was targeting. Two police officers track down the killer of the endangered Philippine eagle while investigating the mysterious disappearance of a busload of farmers en route to Manila. She learns about life and death, cops and robbers, and sinners and saints. Despite that, the movie exhibits Maya undergoing a coming-of-age story.
Rosario Pereira | ROSARIO
Rosario revolves around the titular character, a sophisticated Filipina flapper in the 1920s. She had just arrived from New York City and spending her vacation in their hacienda. Destined to be a modern masterpiece in Philippine filmmaking, it also shows a monumental yet intimate portrait of a woman’s emancipation and the sometimes painful consequences of following one’s desires. Duty and love are the twin poles that Rosario had to contend with in the 1920s Philippines.
Starring Jennylyn Mercado as Rosario, she remains a passionate woman who lives according to her heart’s desire. A woman ahead of her time, she lives her life on her own terms. She is also unafraid of going after who and what she wants, no matter the societal conventions or the consequences that would follow. Despite the moral restrictions placed upon women (sadly, even in 2020), Rosario embraces her sexuality and all her choices something that not even women in the present can do without being discriminated against.
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