A new film on the horizon is bravely asking the question: how would a Filipino family tackle the difficult conversation around #MeToo especially if it happened to someone within the family? In her new film, actress Tess Paras (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Grimm) tells the tale of a Filipina woman who has to explain to her Filipino immigrant parents the aftermath of her experience. In this interview, she talks about the #MeToo movement from a Filipina perspective and how a Filipino family handles the conversation. Paras stars in and directs the short The Patients which just recently reached their crowdfunding goal.
A: What can you tell us about The Patients? What would you like our readers to know?
Paras: I want the readers to know that I’ve created a short film that is borrowed from my own life. I would really love it if the film would help families open up a conversation about survivors’ experiences particularly because I feel like in this conversation about the #MeToo movement, a little piece is missing.
I’ve started to notice that and we’re not talking necessarily about what it’s like to have to open up and lean on your family after you’ve shared your experience–or tried to seek help–and that’s part of what the stigma is.
Talking about it and communicating is the first step in relieving any sort of stigma because stigma essentially means we’re not talking about it.
If I could share a piece of my life and how I was able to break down some of those barriers with my own family, then maybe folks would be inspired to do the same.
A: What do you think that barrier is in talking about a topic like this to Filipino parents?
Paras: I think it’s a couple of different things. I think it’s generational. It’s very complex when we have this intersection of maybe you’re first or second generation–it’s complex as far as our different value sets.
Even in my research for the film–because I was trying to dissect what happened with me – I was reading a lot about intergenerational Filipino psychology and Filipino-American psychology. And there are just different cultural value sets between about what you should and shouldn’t talk about.
There’s also some difficulty there because with young people and millennials and my generation–we’re all about being transparent and sharing everything. Even the littlest things online we’re able to share what our daily lives are like the good and the bad. Maybe our parents didn’t necessarily go through that in such a public way and they’re not that transparent.
I think [the barrier is] cultural and generational. We’re just working with a different set of tools to talk to one another and we have to find a way to meet in the middle especially when something traumatic happens.
A: How do you think this fits into the #MeToo era with the angle of being Filipina as well?
Paras: The real spark of it happened when last year, the #MeToo movement really started to get amplified and everyone was posting #MeToo online and there was a moment when I did the same thing. I think I wrote something like “Therapy helps #metoo”…and immediately my mom called me and asked, “What is #MeToo?”
I told her that it’s a movement online where people share [a time] they’ve been sexually assaulted or gone through some sort of assault, and [at the moment] she just glazed over it. I think in the community and my family, we acknowledge it happened. It’s still a lot to talk about but [theres that] ‘we love you and support you‘.
So, that kind of comes to a head as far as the #MeToo movement is concerned because it’s been about a year now and we’re still catching up and thankfully, a lot of folks are seeking justice and I think that’s really important. But I think it’s not just the justice on paper, but also about [survivors’] emotional and mental healing–and what happens within our circles when we are around a survivor; especially because chances are, there is one in your group. It’s all about that first conversation.
We’re able to do that first conversation online…maybe, but how do we do it when we take it offline and see each other face to face as groups and families?
A: What do you hope Filipinas and Filipinos would take away from your film?
Paras: For the Filipino perspective, I think it’s seeing a family: a) that looks like them. because we don’t have many families that look like us anywhere. I mean, I’m privileged to be a part of one on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But as far as Filipino families are concerned, we are the third largest Asian ethnic group and we don’t see enough Filipino families, so I feel like the community is so hungry for it that there’s an appreciation. The feedback that I’ve been getting from folks who have donated and supported the campaign is, ‘Thank you for making a family that looks like mine!’ So, I think that’s always great!
Seeing yourself presented and normalized validates our experience–
and beyond that, b) to even go into the nuances of how our families interact. For Filipinos family is number one. I feel like you can’t emphasize that enough (laughs).
If you’ve ever had a Filipino family in your life: you go to every holiday party, you text your whole family, you call everybody, it’s number one.
I feel that we need to see stories that demonstrate that because that can be conflict too if you’re trying to work on individual issues or things that are going on in your life.
Sometimes, there’s that individualism versus family. That’s difficult. You know? Everyone has an opinion.
That’s something I haven’t necessarily talked about in an interview that this short is very much about everyone in the Filipino family having an opinion and having their own way.
When you’re in a family that’s all up in each other’s business–that’s conflict right there because everyone wants to put their own stance–their own opinion on it. I think that’s very characteristic to being in a very Filipino family and it was important of me to portray that as well.
The Patients recently wrapped for post-production. This is their crowdfunding campaign which reached its goal just last month. The film boasts an all-Filipino cast led by: Tess Paras in the title role of Regina Santos and Jon Jon Briones as her father Dr. Santos, and also stars–Eugene Cordero (as Steven Santos), Melody Butiu (as Mary Santos) and Josephine De La Cruz (as Rose Santos).
Find Tess Paras on instagram and twitter @Tessparas.
This interview was slightly condensed for time.
[Edited 12.19.18 @ 5:00 pm]