Women’s stories through the lens of SEA women


TELLING STORIES through the female gaze, relating to the human experience and finding your audience are some of the ingredients of a compelling story, said creative Southeast Asian women in film.

To celebrate International Women’s Month, online streaming service Netflix brought together four Southeast Asian creators and talents (all of whom have work featured on Netflix) to talk about storytelling for, by and about women. women during a round table entitled “Women who rule the screen”. ” on March 23.

The panel consisted of Thai-American director Pailin Wedel (frozen hope), Indonesian actress Marissa Anita (Queens Ali and Ratu Ratu), Malaysian producer Lina Tan (Sa Balik Baju) and Filipino writer and executive producer Tanya Yuson (braid).

Growing up in a family of music lovers and performers, Indonesian presenter, journalist and actress Marissa Anita said, “I grew up watching a lot of movies and learned more about the values ​​of life through movies and not at school,” Ms Anita said. noted. Her passion for acting and acting grew while taking acting classes in college and she “has never looked back since.”

Thai-American director Pailin Wedel’s debut was unexpected when she landed a job as a photojournalist at a broadsheet despite earning a degree in biology.

Covering reports, she then moved from photography to making videos for news sites. “Finally I just realized that everything I was producing was frustrating [too] short to cover the depth I wanted to cover,” Ms. Wedel said. This awareness led her to explore the production of documentaries.

His longest-running play to date is the award-winning 75-minute documentary frozen hope (2018).

Filipino writer Tanya Yuson began her career as a production assistant for commercials. She then moved to New York and Los Angeles where she worked in development for studios such as New Line Cinema and The Walt Disney Company. After 14 years abroad, she returned home and co-founded BASE Entertainment. “I knew I always wanted to come back and watch the stories from Southeast Asia,” Ms. Yuson said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian film producer Lina Tan had a background in advertising before founding Red Communications, a production company producing women-centric stories.

“At that time, I was looking at the content. Television was very keen on developing young minds and I watched a lot of images of young women on television,” Ms Tan said.

During the discussion, panelists commented on the status of inclusiveness and representation of women early in their careers.

Ms Wedel recalled searching Google for “Thai Women Directors” in her early days in the early 2000s, and “less than 10 people showed up” on Google search.

“I just remember feeling lonely and not really knowing how to find community or mentors,” Ms. Wedel said. “The very first thing I would like to see is the numbers, just more of us all over the industry.”

Ms. Tan recalled the difficulty she had in producing serious subjects on women.

After the series premiere 3R – Respect, Relax, Respond (2000) about three girls who tackle issues important to them, such as relationships and sexual identity, Ms. Tan recalls having to deal with content censorship.

“We were constantly getting letters from the censor board,” Ms Tan said, adding that there were episodes that were banned due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. “There are levels of caution that we have to be very careful about.”

The connection with the character and the human experience are factors that create an engaging story.

“Watch stories that connect, that feel real, even if it was something that felt like a wish-fulfillment or a fantasy,” said Ms. Yuson, who serves as the executive producer of braidan animated series based on a comic of the same name. It follows detective Alexandra Trese who protects the human world from supernatural criminals.

Less than a week after its release in June 2021, braid was in the Netflix Top 10 in 19 territories.

braid addresses themes such as family relationships and a young woman finding her place in the world that are universal. “Even though we were telling it specifically in a very Filipino context. He was always connected to members of the public at that level,” Ms. Yuson said.

“A lot of people around the world might have these preconceived notions of what Asia is, they don’t even know the distinction of Southeast Asia. But presenting that in a very specific, very modern way was kind of refreshing,” she added.

Meanwhile, Ms. Wedel focuses on character-driven documentaries despite having no control over the subject’s narrative. For her documentaries, she follows interesting and complex characters.

His first feature documentary, frozen hope (2018), follows a Thai couple who decided to have the body of their three-year-old daughter cryopreserved after her death from brain cancer in 2015. frozen hope won Best International Documentary Feature at the 2019 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It also won Best Documentary at the 49and International Emmy Awards in 2021, becoming the first Thai production to win an International Emmy.

“It’s just as mind-blowing to me that this all happened,” Ms. Wedel said. “I had so many editors telling me that the movie was mostly subtitled, it wasn’t in English, and people didn’t understand anything,” she added. “The International Emmy is such a global award; I just feel like they weren’t doing well.

As for Ms. Tan, the accessibility of online streaming platforms has given her latest film, Sa Balik Baju (2021) an audience despite the closure of cinemas during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Sa Balik Baju is a series of interconnected stories of six women braving the modern pressures of social media, work and relationships in the digital age.

“I was [really] excited when I managed to get it on Netflix. And because I felt that was where my audience was for the first time,” Ms. Tan said. “They are at home watching. It’s a pandemic and the cinemas are closed. At the same time, this smaller screen is under their own control.

Panelists hope for increased accessibility and more stories from Southeast Asian women, latching onto the growing power of women as audiences.

“I think in terms of change, it’s [that] women have more power as an audience, and that’s a great thing,” Ms. Yuson said. “If they’re getting the audience, then they should want the focus to shift more to how they see themselves and how they are.”

“I really believe that the concept of the male gaze and the female gaze is very, very real. We see things differently. So I want to see more female writers and directors or introduce more complete female characters in Indonesian films,” said Ms. Anita.

For women hoping for the opportunity to tell their stories, Ms. Yuson offered this advice: “It’s scary at first, but don’t be afraid to do it your way because it might not be ready for you. you at this point. . But if you persevere… you will eventually find your audience.

Hope Frozen, Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens, Trese, and Sa Balik Baju viewable on Netflix. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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