Pinay Beauty (She’s No White)

Every August, the Philippines celebrates Buwan ng Wika. Various activities are held to highlight and appreciate the richness of the Filipino languages. The film industry has made a contribution to the Buwan ng Wika festivities by holding the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Cinemas block off a week from their schedule to show Filipino films that reflect the Filipino culture and values.

This year, I started the festival by watching Pinay Beauty (She’s No White). It’s about a woman named Annie who thinks that having fair and white skin is the definition of beauty and her ticket towards a better life. The movie explores how far her boyfriend and his friends would go to help Annie attain her dream.

Stop right here if you’re planning to watch the movie. The post is going to be filled with spoilers and I wouldn’t want it to influence anyone’s judgment on the film.

Looking at the film, there are four running plots: Annie’s journey towards her Snow White complexion so that she can fulfill her dream of being a princess in Disneyland, Migs’s loyalty towards Annie as he gives Annie the money for the operation even if it means risking his life, Migs’s friends who would go to great lengths to pay back the 180k that Migs took from a loan shark, and celebrity Lovely G’s struggle to break away from the “typical Pinay beauty” stereotype.

The plotlines of Migs and his friends were clear and simple. Migs was so blinded by his love for Annie that he would make a deal with a loan shark, just to get that 180k for Annie’s surgery. He had the internal struggle of telling Annie to take back the money so he can live but sacrifice her dream, or find a way to pay off the loan shark just so he can live and make his girlfriend happy.

In comes the barkada to Migs’s rescue. I loved this silly but tight-knit group who treat each other like family. I’m not sure if it was deliberate that the LGBT is represented in that group but I liked how gender wasn’t an issue and didn’t need explaining how they all became friends. All that mattered is that they were loyal to Migs and when Migs needed results within the given timeframe, they came through, even without asking anything in return. Well, they discussed interests but it looked like it was made out of jest.

Here comes my problem with the other two characters — Annie and Lovely G. I couldn’t determine the exact conflict of Annie’s and Lovely’s stories and it seemed that their conflicts were never resolved, or at least the resolution does not match the conflict.

Lovely G is a model/actress who is seen as the perfect example of Pinay Beauty — brown skinned. Unknown to her, she becomes part of the deal between Migs and the loan shark Tito Val. If Migs isn’t able to pay back the 180k, he should land Tito Val a date with his type of lady, Lovely G. So basically the story revolves around Migs and his friends trying to get that 180k and finding a way to reach Lovely.

Lovely G has her own struggle. She’s a celebrity and she’s boxed with the stereotype of dalagang Pilipina: prim and proper, dainty, and pretty. The director of the film that she was auditioning for suggested that she takes the leading lady role because she was “too pretty” to become the monster. But Lovely G has had enough of the pretty roles and wants to be an action star where she could get down and dirty. She’s also comfortable with her own skin color and hates endorsements that promote whitening.

Somewhere at the end of the movie, she becomes Annie’s voice of reason that one can be beautiful when happy, and not the other way around. She shows Annie that she’s already beautiful with brown skin. She also becomes Migs’ savior when she shows up to face Tito Val and gives him a piece of her mind that she’s not just some pretty face.

Then that’s it. The movie ends with Lovely on set, promoting make-up in a red dress. What happened to her dream of being an action star? Didn’t she feel empowered when she stood up to that dirty old man and slapped him in the face? Didn’t that give her the inspiration to push for that dream on being an action star? I felt like they had to force that brand deal into the movie to the point that they sacrificed what Lovely G was fighting for. I wished that if Lovely G still kept that “pretty” vibe, she should’ve at least merged it with action. Like she can be pretty while rolling on the ground and doing some action scenes. And if they wanted to push that brand deal, they could’ve at least used the make-up for an action-themed commercial. The commercial could be a recreation of her confrontation with Tito Val but with the punches that she planned to give out. It was a missed opportunity.

And Annie. Oh Annie. In the synopsis, it says that Annie’s lifelong dream is to be as white as Snow White. All of her friends have lighter skin than her and when they all auditioned for Disneyland, Annie was rejected because her skin tone does not match the princess that she applied for. So her plan was to undergo surgery so that she could get a gig in Disneyland and earn money for her and Migs. So when Migs gives her the money and she finally books that appointment, she becomes obsessed with the transformation that she fails to see the life-threatening problem that her boyfriend is going through.

Here comes the confusion. It seems that there are two different motivations for Annie’s whitening transformation. First, she sees that being white is the definition of beauty. Second, she wants to be white so that she can be Snow White in Disneyland.

If we go with the first conflict, it matches the resolution through that talk with Lovely G. Lovely lets Annie realize that all along she’s happy because she’s beautiful. Migs finds her beautiful. Lovely calls her beautiful. Migs’s friends recognize that ladies are beautiful, Annie included. Being light-skinned is not exclusive to beauty. Beauty radiates from within and if one is happy, one is beautiful.

But if we’ll go with the second conflict, it doesn’t get resolved. Sure, Annie is comfortable with her own skin color, but it doesn’t answer her dream of being a princess in Disneyland. She talks about being left behind countless times but at the end, there was no mention of Disneyland. The movie ended with her watching Lovely G shoot her brand deal, and giving the actress a non-verbal pep talk to smile and be happy, just like how she is happy. What a big disconnect.

Maaaaaybe it could be resolved by Annie realizing that there are other princesses who are not light-skinned and she shouldn’t put all her focus on Snow White. Disney has evolved into introducing princesses from other races. They could’ve ended the movie with Annie auditioning for Moana who share the same features — brown-skinned, curly hair, and a flat nose. Filipinos are currently playing Moana in Disneyland HK and Annie would be the perfect fit for that.

Overall, it was a fairly good movie. Not mind-blowing great, but still good. I understand what the movie is trying to convey but I felt like the story-telling could’ve been better. The cast was great. I liked how Annie wore Snow White colors all throughout the film. There’s a good balance between comedy and drama. And Edgar Allan Guzman is a dang good actor.

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