by Jaimie Alano
For the past decades, there were several historical movies that were released in the Philippine cinema, such as Jose Rizal (1998), Aishite Imasu (2004), Baler (2008), El Presidente (2012), and Bonifacio Ang Unang Pangulo (2014). The list of movies above was ranked by Meyn Stay in celebration of the 117th Independence Day, it was published in choosephilippines.com on June 10, 2015, and he gave a list of historical films that depicted the struggles for the love of our country or patriotism, war, and freedom in the Philippines. In my opinion, if ever he will publish another article or list of movies in commemoration with our Independence Day, I can say that Heneral Luna will be or can be a part of the new list. Even if the film is a biopic, it captured the essence of true sacrifice and love for one’s country. The movie also captured the attention of the mass through the help of new media. It has an interesting story behind the success of the said film that sparked my interest due to its interconnection with the internet and the netizens. Without the new media, this film will be another plunk in the movie industry due to its lack of budget in advertising. It is an independent film with a budget of P80 million where it needs to rake in at least P 240 million to break even; in conclusion, they got P256 million which was the highest grossing historical Film of all time in the Philippines.
Heneral Luna was released on September 9, 2015 in the Philippine cinema and October 30, 2015 in the United States, directed by one of the Philippine’s well-known director, Direk Jerrold Tarog and produced by Artikulo Uno Productions. The film was selected as Philippine’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at 88th Academy awards. The film won several awards in Luna Awards, Gawad Urian Awards, Platinum Stallion Media Awards, Gawad Tanglaw Awards, Asian Film Awards and PMPC Star Awards for Movies. Although it was a big success, it has several controversies revolving inside the movie; some of it was it’s early pull-out in cinemas, the lack of knowledge about Mabini’s paralysis, the portrayal of Aguinaldo and copyright infringement. The following controversies will be discussed throughout the entire discussion.
To give you a little background about the film, it is a biographical movie about General Antonio Luna, the brother of the famous painter of the Spoliarium which is Juan Luna. He studied military science in the University of Santo Tomas which he eventually used during the war. He is also famous for his short-temperedness and strict comradeship which earned him a lot of adversaries. After the movie, he was known to say the word, “punyeta” which became Heneral Luna’s trademark. It was used in memes which further advertise the movie. The controversy of Emilio Aguinaldo lies on the assassination of Gen. Luna which he commended. A number of historians have noted that the Film’s portrayal of Aguinaldo is more negative than it thought to be by the viewers due to the plot, but as the director indicated that one of the hopes of the planned trilogy is to present a more rounded portrayal of Aguinaldo. Then again using Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author concept which indicates that the death of the author is the rise of the readers. In this case, the author is the director and/or writer and for the readers it is the viewers. This means that whatever the viewers understanding about the film has nothing to do with the director and/or writer itself, viewers formulate their own understanding and ideas about the film. The crew and cast have no control over the reaction of the viewers.
Photos from official Heneral Luna Facebook page
One of the many issues faced by Heneral Luna’s team was the early pull out of the film in cinemas to make room for the upcoming foreign and mainstream movies like Walang Take Two, Silong, Taklub and Etiquette for Mistress. According to the official Heneral Luna Facebook page, out of 101 cinemas that aired the movie on its released date, only 40 cinemas remained as of September 16 of 2015. Fernando Oritgas, producer, and Eduardo Rocha, screenwriter, asked supporters to message their local cinemas to continue the film screening. Quoting from their Facebook page, “Please keep the fires burning, please keep the spirit alive. If the film is no longer in your city, go directly to your local cinemas and ask the manager to bring it back or bring it to your movie house for the first time. Be the hero for your school, for your barangay, for your friends and family by being the one who called them or texted them and let it be known to them that this movie must play in your cinema because there are plenty of people who want to see it and must see it.” As a response, netizens showed their supporter by using the hashtag, “KEEP HENERAL LUNA IN CINEMAS”, which started a wildfire trend in social media like Facebook and Twitter. As a result, the movie was in demand due to its positive feedback and its rising popularity through the hashtags and the memes that circulated the world wide web that was created by the netizens to further instill the curiosity to the masses. It lasted for more than a month in cinemas wherein its 6th week in theaters, as a way to thanking the masses, the team of Heneral Luna offered 50% discount in theater tickets for students.
In that span of 6 weeks, there were several revelations that rose during the hype of the movie. The effect of its popularity in social media lure interested crowd into watching the film and to support its cost. One of the outcomes was the discovery of the younger generation’s ignorance about Mabini’s condition. There were two eminent comments that started the spread of the issue, one was the scenario where several students asked Epy Quizon why his character, Apolinario Mabini, remain seated in the whole movie and the second post that went viral was the conversation of a couple questioning Mabini’s projection in the movie. The actor, Epy Quizon, showed his disappointment and heartache about the lack of knowledge of the students regarding who and what condition Apolinario Mabini has through posting on his official twitter account. Several tweets and Facebook posts went viral with the same issue as said above. Through its widespread in different social media, it became known to the cast and crew of the film and to the Philippine community. As a response to the trending issue, some netizens commented that Mabini might be tired during that time or created some meme to make fun of the scenario but more importantly it turned out or call the attention of the authorities in this pressing manner. This circumstance was published in major newspaper companies. We can say that it was the talk of the town.
Photo by: Facebook photo by Epy Quizon
The issue was also reported on national television and was addressed in the speech of our late President Benigno Aquino during the 28th Apolinario Mabini Awards ceremony held on September 29, 2015. The lack of knowledge of Mabini’s polio can be a reflection of the shortcoming of Philippine history to the younger generation. Senator Grace Poe responded with an urge to screen or show historical films in public school including Heneral Luna to raise and expose enthusiasm and awareness to the young generation. Although films are unable to present the whole picture, it can be an aid to teaching to capture the attention of the students since the generation today are more into visuals than in literary words. As what Sen. Poe said, “Movies are tools, like books. But it still the responsibility of teachers and instructors to present different historical accounts and challenge their students to think critically.” Following the positive reviews given the historical biopic “Heneral Luna”, an online petition was launched for the film to be screened in the Philippine schools and several public places. In change.org, more than 21,000 supported the call for the screening of the movie, needs at least 25,000 for the government to support it, unfortunately, it did not reach the said quota. After further researching about the topic, there were no follow-up news about the approval of the government. The hype of the news eventually subsided due to the superseding of other current affairs or news in the country.
Photo by Pep.ph
As a result of the success of the film, bootlegs or pirated copies was released and being circulated on the internet during the hype of Heneral Luna. A quick response was made by the cast and crew of the film using social media campaigning to discourage potential viewers from buying and watching unlicensed copies of the film. It was soon joined by the fans by posting image macros encouraging viewers to support the film instead of patronizing unauthorized and pirated copies.
Through the new media, the success of Heneral Luna was made possible. The participation of social media users or netizens sparked a controversy that gave the film more impact and continuous conversation about the issues and arguments that were raised. Based on my observation of our society news, the kind of medium plays more leading role than the previous analogue media. In new media, the passive consumers became active consumer where they use technology to create their own content or better known as User Generated Content or UGC. Due to the cheaper and more accessible technology, and also the rise of the internet, UGC was made possible. The creation of hashtags and memes are examples of UGC, with this simple act of participation it provides a development of communities or groups and its own culture. For instance, Heneral Luna, there are several fan base sites and Facebook pages that caters to its fans where they interact with one another and share several information and argument that can circulate across the medium. It can raise awareness that can eventually lead to either solution or destruction. As to what happened to the film Heneral Luna, it was saved by the netizens’ support and action through the movement in the world wide web. The netizens created a petition poll in change.org to keep Heneral Luna screened at the theaters, but when the hype of the issue cools down and everybody forgets about it, the progress of the issue will also slow down and eventually be halted at least for the Philippines. My assumption and observations is only base on some of the issues in the Philippines, we tend to forget and be pre-occupied in other matters without finishing or resolving the recent issues. Associating my observation to one of the characteristics of the new media which is the faster dissemination of information, we can say that its positive effect is it surpasses time and space that even if the news is 100 km away from you, it does not matter, it travels through the cloud system. The dissemination process is a lot easier and faster, the only hindrance will be the internet speed connection and specific geographic limitation of information. Due to the fast dissemination process, people are now bombarded with so much information that they cannot decipher everything and their lack of focus on a specific topic. The attention span lessens due to it. The life span of news shortens compared to the analogue media, newspaper, where news is being filtered in terms of its importance to society because of its limited slots. Again it gives you a two-way perspective of the effects of new media.
Photo by CEnter TechNews
It also promotes creativity and inventions of new application or trend; it may be for better or worse in terms of its mass consumption as what Mark Poster said in his article Global Media and Culture, “Global media are now digital thus affecting the development of global culture.” Whether you see new media as a new capitalist ground or promotion of better flow of ideas and news, it truly is an evolution from its predecessor. It is a double-edge media, defined by Poster, it is allowing greater freedom for individuals and groups and greater control by dominant institutions. As to what happened with Heneral Luna, due to its success and rising popularity, a bootleg was released, and a fast response of the authority of the film which is the cast and crew of the film, they ask their supporters to spread and fight against bootleg. It affects their target profit but then again the film goal, excluding economic profit, is to raise an awareness and knowledge in the history of the Philippines, particularly Gen. Antonio Luna. Even though a dent was already made in their economic gain, the success it harness from social media intervention are considerably heavier than the lost profit.
It only shows how one viral trend can create a ripple of effects in different sectors of society. A simple post can create waves of different effect and magnitude in various spheres and if thrown at the right time and place, it will create massive effects and discussion in the new and traditional media. For instance, the commercial of Jollibee’s valentine special became an instant trend for Filipino people and netizens due to its timely release and its subject matter. It did not create controversy like Heneral Luna but it created amusement and user generated content where netizen created their own memes about it. Due to its seasonal hit, the hype for those commercial quickly died out unlike the movie Heneral Luna where the issues concerned were much more crucial but even though it captured the government’s attention, the issue only lasted for about 6 weeks before it died a natural death. The use of new media or the netizens gained the film success in terms of its market sphere.
We can see the impact of new media in our society. For Heneral Luna, it climbed the ladder of success through the help of social media and netizens who participated in spreading the fight for cinemas to continuously show the film. In Ethan Zuckerman article, he said that participants have the growing impulse to make oneself heard. The majority of the netizens belongs to the younger generation who grew up in a participatory media. They are the digital natives and internet savvy which are accustomed to expressing themselves in various social media. The perfect medium to raise this controversy is through new media. The success of spreading the word and supporting the film pave the way to educate people and raise awareness of the history deficiency to the younger generation. Through it, it allows a certain conversation to be brought up and to make further action as a community. Heneral Luna fans were able to reach the political and market sphere but the issue of online petition remains pending but again some pursue to share the film with the masses.