BL in the Philippines
The Philippines adopts the generic term “BL.” In terms of producing our own original BL content, some have already done so, while some productions are underway. However, we remain largely to be consumers of foreign-produced BL media, which we refer to by the demonym of its country of origin. For instance, Japanese yaoi, Thai BL, and thus, Filipino-produced BL content is Pinoy or Filipino BL.
To show how much catching up the Philippines needs to do in terms of (generally) producing LGBTQ+ (not just BL) content in mainstream media, I cite a couple of BL-related content that is gay-themed but cannot be really labeled as “BL” because for one, it doesn’t involve teen boys among many other elements in the purist’s tradition of the BL genre.
First is GMA Network’s My Husband’s Lover, which is considered as the first gay-themed soap opera on national television with 94 episodes that ran from 10 June to 18 October 2013. It tells the story of Lally (Carla Abellana) who discovers that her husband Vincent (Tom Rodriguez) has a gay lover Eric (Dennis Trillo). While the series is somewhat groundbreaking in terms of featuring gay relationship in mainstream media, it still frowns upon the idea of homosexual love and puts gay relationship on the margins and gay men in bad light, i.e., as a home-wrecker. The narrative is still centered on infidelity, which is a favorite theme of Philippine soaps. We may not have any BL series but we have a dime a dozen “kabit-serye” (paramour series) on Philippine television.
After Lally learns about the truth, she asks Vincent, “Bakit kay Eric pa? Bakit hindi sa babae? Mas matatanggap ko pa siguro kung sa ibang babae, pero bakit d’on pa? Bakit sa lalaki? Bakit sa bakla? (Why with Eric? Why not with a woman? I can accept it more if it were with another woman, but why with a man? Why a gay man?)” The scene perpetuates the idea that while adultery is already illicit, engaging in a same-sex relationship is more abominable.
It is also somewhat a typical formula in film or television series that the much-awaited kiss between the leads appears at the very end. Everyone has been anticipating the kiss but this never happened because the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) prohibited the scene to be aired. The kiss is sacred on national television and should only happen between a man and a woman.
Second is the online series Hanging Out. Created by director Petersen Vargas and writer Patrick Valencia for Team TV, the series veers away from the usual coming-out narrative and other commonly used conflicts in gay-themed shows. It has six episodes that run from about 12 to 15 minutes each (totaling to roughly 80 minutes or equivalent to one full-length film). The pilot episode was released on YouTube on 19 December 2016 and currently has 631,000 views. The viewership drops to 285,000 views on its second episode and continues to decline to 229,000 views on its last episode on 27 February 2017. The series did not take flight nor did it create a buzz perhaps because of lack of promotion but it could also be because it did not have the right elements to hook and sustain the audience.
Are we there yet?
The Philippines has finally joined the BL craze and bandwagon. The IdeaFirst Company has recently uploaded on its YouTube channel the first of eight episodes of what is now regarded as the country’s first BL series, Gameboys. It is directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal and stars Kokoy de Santos as Gavreel and Elijah Canlas as Cairo.
De Santos also stars in another BL series called Oh, Mando! but this time he is paired up with Alex Diaz. Directed by Eduardo Roy, Jr., Oh, Mando! will be streamed on iWant.
Prime Event Productions Philippines Foundation, Incorporated (PEPPS), in partnership with Oxin Films, is also producing a BL series called My Day. It stars Miko Gallardo as Sky and Iñaki Torres as Ace, and it is directed by Xion Lim.
A new digital entertainment company called Asterisk Entertainment Production is coming up with a BL trilogy, starting with My ExtraOrdinary that stars Darwin Yu and Enzo Santiago. It is expected to air within in July on TV5. The first series will be followed by A Kiss to Remember and Boys Next Door, which are currently auditioning for various roles.
Lastly, Globe Studios is producing Juan Miguel Severo’s Gaya sa Pelikula (Like in the Movies) and is currently conducting a casting call.
It has also been recently reported that GMA Network is in discussion with GMMTV for the possible broadcast of 2gether: The Series in the Philippines. However, according to GMA vice president for Program Management Joey Abacan, this also depends if the MTRCB would allow the airing of the series.
This is where the real problem lies: concealed censorship. Is the Philippines ready to see the forbidden kiss between two guys on national television? Everybody else seems to be ready — the production groups, the cast, the fans, the gay community — but is a country of repressed people really ready? No matter how much we claim that the Philippines is a gender-sensitive and tolerant country, it remains to be not accepting of non-binary genders.
The Philippines still needs to overcome many hurdles in order to launch a successful Pinoy BL series or any non-binarized gender-driven media product. After all, we’re still learning a new genre, and this is part of the birthing pains, not to mention that we’ll need to beat the “colonial mentality” of the Filipinos. The first few productions will most likely be compared against the Thai-produced and other foreign-produced BL series, with risk of potentially becoming or being dubbed as local copycats.
The making of the Pinoy BL series is a developing story, and whether or not it will emerge victorious in the Philippine and international mediascape is anyone’s guess at this point.