Directors: S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons
Pride may have been cancelled this summer, but the Queer East Film Festival has organised a mini film series, showing four documentaries about LGBTQ+ lives in East and Southeast Asia, throughout the month of July. The first screening is a compelling portrait of three courageous LGBTQ+ politicians trying to win seats in the Philippines.
At first glance it may seem that LGBTQ+ people are widely accepted in the country, especially trans people and there are trans beauty pageants in nearly every town where trans women compete to be crowned Miss Gay or Miss Universe. However, for the majority of Filipinos these events are seen only as entertainment and if any contestant becomes too political then the crowd goes suddenly silent. Outside of these pageants, LGBTQ+ people have few rights, but in the early 2010s a new political party, the only one in the world to be exclusively LGBTQ+, was set up to tackle discrimination in the workplace.
The name of this party is Ladlad, and while in Britain this name would conjure up ideas of right wing groups such as the Football Lads Alliance, in the Tagalog language it means ‘coming-out’. It seeks to make life safer for all LGBTQ+ people in the country, and when the 2013 partylist elections, where seats are reserved for minority groups in Congress, come around, Ladlad believes it has a chance to win.
Ladlad fields three candidates for the election and the most charismatic is Bemz Benedito, a trans woman. S Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons’ film shows Bemz campaign tirelessly in Manila, and the towns around it. The party had also planned to cover the rural areas, but eventually, due to a shortage of funds and manpower, decide to concentrate on the towns and cities, as that is where most queer people live. However, to win a seat in Congress Ladlad need to garner the support of the straight community too.
To make the party more electable in a Catholic country, Bemz and her fellow candidates decide not to push for same-sex marriage, but while this may win them some support from more conservative voters, it also alienates the more progressive members of the LGBTQ+ community. One of their main opposition parties is led by Benny Abante, and his strategy in bagging the gay vote is shocking. As Election Day looms, Ladlad are forced to play politics in ways its leaders never imagined.
Out Run was shown at BFI Flare, the LGBTQ+ Film Festival, in 2017, and focuses on the 2013 election, but the film, crisp and clean, does not seem dated at all, and when the politicians speak of a trans woman who was murdered because she tried to use the women’s bathroom, it’s clear that the film still has plenty to say. Despite this murder, the film remains hopeful, and the politicians’ journeys are exemplary, and demonstrate that minority groups, and, crucially, people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, can find agency.
It’s humbling watching the candidates campaign, dealing with all kinds of homophobia and transphobia. Bemz skilfully manages to quiet the men who don’t believe she is trans, but what do you say to a man who thinks he is helping when he announces ‘ I tell the parents of baklas ( gays) at least their child is not an addict or a murderer’? But Ladlad don’t give up, and the party’s determination is joyous and celebratory, and this film succeeds in capturing it all.
Runs here until 10 July 2020