MANILA — Even before opening night last week, “Maid in Malacanang” was set to become the most talked-about film of the year in the Philippines.
The nearly two-hour drama portrays the Marcos family’s final days in the presidential palace before being forced into exile in 1986 by a pro-democracy uprising.
“We did everything for this country after World War II, but were destroyed by the people who crave power,” a sobbing Imelda R. Marcos tells her son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in one scene. “Remember this, we will never be able to return after we leave. They will do everything they can so that the Filipino people will hate us.”
mr. Tearful Marcos, played by young actor Diego Loyzaga, comforts his mother as he replies, “I promise, I don’t know how or when, but we’ll be back.”
The Marcoses returned to the Philippines in the 1990s, but the family’s biggest comeback came in May, when Mr. Marcos, the former dictator’s son and namesake, was elected president in the most sweeping race in three decades. . The release of Maid in Malacanang, a big budget production starring two famous actors, is seen as a kind of victory round for the new president and his family.
“This is a work of truth,” said Imee Marcos at the film’s premiere. One of Mr. Marcos’ sisters, she was the creative producer and executive producer of the film. “We waited 36 years for this story to come out.”
Despite the corruption and tax evasion cases against the family, many Filipinos view the Marcoses as royalty, an idea the film capitalizes on while promoting the myth that they were victims of a political vendetta.
In May, more than 30 million people voted for Marcos, enabling him to win the presidency with the largest margin of vote in more than 30 years. Almost half of the country believes that the family has fled unjustly.
But many opponents of Marcos say he won the election because of a years-long campaign to rewrite Marcos’ family history and the legacy of the father’s brutal dictatorship. ‘Maid in Malacanang’, they say, is just the latest attempt at rewriting the story.
The film is told through the eyes of three maids who worked for the Marcoses in the years leading up to the People Power revolution in 1986, when hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Manila to protest against a family they deemed corrupt.
The film portrays the former dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades, as a soft-spoken leader incapable of violence — a popular topic of conversation among Marcos family supporters online. The film also portrays the Marcoses as ordinary people who enjoy simple food, even when they surround themselves with designer bags and jewelry.
What the film fails to mention: the widespread public anger at the family’s excesses, such as Imelda Marcos’ 1,060 pairs of shoes. Also missing is any mention of the tens of thousands of people tortured during martial law.
“I didn’t live during President Marcos’ tenure, but I was surprised to see a different story, different from what I heard from other people,” said Maricar Amores Faypon-Sicat, a moviegoer who saw the film on its opening night. .
“I didn’t know he wanted to avoid bloodshed, and he was thinking about the Filipino people until the last minute,” said Ms Amores Faypon-Sicat, 29.
Darryl Yap, the director, said the decision to make the film came after the presidential election, although he had done some prep work before then. He said the landslide victory for Mr. Marcos was “stunning proof that the Filipino people are ready to hear the side of the Marcoses.”
During the July 29 premiere, Mr. Yap told a select audience that the film was the first time viewers had a chance to watch a film about the Marcos family that was not based on the opposition story.
Not everyone has been receptive.
Members of the Roman Catholic clergy condemned the depiction of opposition leader Corazon Aquino playing mahjong with nuns from the Carmelite monastery in Cebu province at the height of the protests. A church leader has called for a boycott of the film.
Sister Mary Melanie Costillas, the head of the monastery, said the nuns were praying and fasting during the demonstrations, worried that the elderly Mr. Marcos would find Mrs. Aquino, who was hiding in the monastery to avoid being detained. At the time, there were reports that Mr. Marcos had issued an order to kill against Ms. Aquino.
“The attempt to distort history is reprehensible,” Sister Costillas said in a statement. She said the mahjong scene “would downplay any contribution we made to democracy.”
The actress who played Irene Marcos, the youngest child of the Marcoses, sparked outrage after comparing the allegations against the family and details of the father’s human rights abuses to “gossip.”
Historians and performers say the film opened a new front in the fight against disinformation in the Philippines, taking something once largely online into a new realm.
“I now feel like the struggle has shifted to the cultural sphere,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, 71, a renowned playwright. He said the film mainly focuses on the younger generation who have never experienced martial law. “They are vulnerable to disinformation. They are the market of the film because they have no historical sense.”
Tortured during the Marcos years, Ilagan teamed up with Joel Lamangan, a well-known film director, to create a film to counter the story of ‘Maid in Malacanang’. Lamangan was the first member of the local directors’ guild to publicly denounce the Marcos-backed film as “pure nonsense,” which he said led to death threats.
They expect that financing their project will be a challenge. “It will be a tough climb because we have no producer and we have no money,” said Mr. Lamangan, 69, who is also a victim of martial law. “But we’re trying to do crowdfunding.”
“Maid in Malacanang” was financed by a major local film production company known for producing blockbusters in the Philippines.
The underlying story of the film focuses on the legacy of the elder Mr. Marcos and how people will remember him. In one scene, a wistful Mr. Marcos asks Irene as she begs him to leave the palace, “How will I face my grandchildren? Their grandfather is a soldier, but he withdrew from the war.”
A weeping Irene replies, “I’ll make sure the truth comes out and history will tell your grandkids who you really are.”
Mr Marcos tells his daughter that the opposition was “angry at us because we are from the province. They are mad at us because people love us. But still I can’t make myself angry with them.”
The audience applauded at the premiere.