What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “Filipino?” Is it the tropics? Islands? California? New Jersey? New York? Manny Pacquiao? Jollibee? What about immigrants? Domestic helpers? Director Michael Manese talked about Filipino representation on the big screen and the nitty-gritty challenges that Filipino women (Filipinas) face as domestic workers with his new film The Pleasure of Being Served.
7 questions with Michael Manese
Director of The Pleasure of Being Served
My Filipino American heritage and background looks like:
First-generation. I came here with my family in ’79 and settled in New Jersey and now I live in New York City.
When we first moved to New Jersey, we were probably the first minorities in the neighborhood, even in our school. In high school, it was the opposite, it was mostly minority kids. It was a Latino high school and hardly any Filipinos there.
It wasn’t until I went back to the Philippines for the first time that I really rediscovered my roots and it was great! I still speak Tagalog and I still eat the food.
Someone I’d like to work with:
I know a lot of local actors that I’d love to work with again like Maan [Cruz] (Rosa, The Pleasure of Being Served). But ever since I was in college, my dream actor to cast is Willem Dafoe. He’s edgy. He played Jesus. Then, he was the Green Goblin (laughs). He’s got the range!
Best movie I’ve seen this year:
A movie I’d like to make:
Crazy Rich Asians – A large mainstream movie that appeals to everyone and not just Asians but at the same time, you never forget that the characters are Asians.
A movie I consider a cult classic:
Harold and Kumar – It’s a hero movie! They’re doing regular things that white Americans would do but you never forget they’re Asian. That’s exactly what I want. You never forget one guy is South Asian and one guy is Korean. They didn’t present them as this Indian-American dude or Korean American guy. They didn’t even go into it. I remember seeing it at a regular movie theater thinking that’s awesome!
My advice for future filmmakers:
One thing I tell actors is if you’re an actor, you should just make movies on your own. On one hand, it’s not as easy as it sounds but it’s a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. People are making movies on iPhones now. It’s still hard, but not as much when you had to have expensive gear.
What I have coming up next:
My next film is going to be shot on an iPhone. It’s going to be a martial arts musical. I’m going to write the music and I’ll record it.
5 questions about The Pleasure of Being Served
AM: What was the process for creating a film like The Pleasure of Being Served?
MM: I approached The Pleasure of Being Served from a specifically Filipino American point-of-view. It’s not necessarily a 100% American movie or a Filipino movie. It’s how I think Filipino Americans see things.
I’m proud of it. Even though I needed help with the translation, I’m proud that it had Tagalog in it.
AM: Was Rosa based on anyone in your life in particular?
MM: Not really. She’s more of a symbol. It’s definitely an immigrant experience which can be any ethnicity, but I’m Filipino and I decided I might as well celebrate that culture.
It’s a statement on nice people. They get their emotions mixed up. They get involved in things that shouldn’t be involved in. Then, sometimes, it backfires.
AM: What were you looking for that she got to deliver during auditions?
MM: I wanted a strong woman and [Maan] definitely portrayed that. This is her first short film, by the way.
I was open-minded about it. I didn’t know who was going to audition. But when I told them on the phone, I said: you’re going to be reading and none of these characters are likable. Not the main character, not the boyfriend, not the girlfriend, but it’ll be our job to give them some empathy.
They may not like what you’re doing but at least be interesting and likable enough that they follow you through it.
AM: Going forward, what do you hope the overall message of your movies would be?
MM: In the 70s, Italian actors like Stallone and DeNiro and Pacino and Travolta, said ‘we’re going to try to make it to Hollywood on our own terms’: ‘We’re going to keep our last names. We’re going to keep the accent.’ That was in the 70s. I want to do the same thing for Filipinos: Filipino actors and Filipino characters.
For me, whenever I started making movies, I always have the mainstream in mind.
The thing is, I know, that maybe the mainstream audience is not ready for an all Filipino cast especially seeing it on the big screen, but then I thought, maybe we could do it baby steps. They may not necessarily go in and think they’re going to watch a Filipino movie but they can come out knowing a little bit more. I want to sneak in Filipino stories little by little.
AM: What is the main thing that you want the audience to take away from The Pleasure of Being Served?
Filipinos are coming around. Filipino culture is coming around. We’re not as exotic as people think.
Every time I go back to the Philippines, I always come back a different person. If you haven’t been exposed to it, I want to say: you’re going to love our food, you’re going to love our characters, actors, and our stories. At the same time, I don’t want to hit them over the head with it. Baby steps.
Genre: Short | Comedy, Drama
Language: English, Tagalog
Running Time: 15 min