We had no plans of weighing in on the recent controversy involving FHM Philippines’ March issue, but while uploading these photos for just another fashion post, we were reminded of it by word association. Colored background, black and white… It might’ve been in the back of our heads all this time, as an issue that’s close to home for us both. So what the heck, let’s throw Lookbook captioning out the window for a moment and throw in our two cents.
Unless you’ve been in hibernation, you probably know that the magazine’s original cover this month featured British-Filipina actress Bela Padilla posing for the camera in a swimsuit, surrounded by five dark-skinned Filipinas in blackface who are either looking down despondently or looking up in awe at this fair-skinned beauty who is “Stepping out of the shadows” (the caption). Guess we don’t need to elaborate on the message this cover clearly sends out. Following a slew of comments from offended netizens, the men’s magazine has recalled the cover and released one with the photo and caption replaced.
All should be well and good now, except it quite isn’t. Because this isn’t the first time we Filipinos have displayed ignorance and insensitivity regarding this, and it probably won’t be the last. Not while the people involved admit outright that they see nothing wrong with blackface, and do not regret having participated in it. Not while again and again, TV shows portray characters in blackface who would be maltreated, ridiculed and hated just for being dark, while becoming lighter-skinned would bring them a better life. Not while we’re okay with how newspapers and magazines continue to paint non-black models black for the sake of art or advocacy without realizing or considering the impact the photos would have, regardless of the accompanying text’s intentions. Not to mention the comments on blog posts about the issue that go along the lines of, “Things are blown out of proportion. What’s so racist about that cover? What’s wrong with painting them black?”
What makes it ultimately tragic is the irony of it all—how we as a people have been victims of white supremacy and racial discrimination for centuries, and yet we ourselves have been participating in it, knowingly, willingly and unabashedly.
Look at Charice. Immense talent, charm, dedication, but with looks that don’t fit the bill as far as Filipino audiences are concerned. She’s been trying to make it in the local music industry but nobody here would give her a break, preferring the mestizos and mestizas with less than stellar vocal pipes. But when Ellen Degeneres gave her a break and the western world embraced her, “Oh, she’s world-famous now, I’m so proud to be Pinoy!”
Seph: In my work, I’ve always been aware of the preference for fair-skinned, foreign or half-foreign models over moreno Pinoys. Whenever I book a project, they would tell me to avoid getting dark or risk getting replaced. In go-sees I attend, we often don’t stand a chance once Caucasians come in. Just watch a random TV commercial, attend a fashion show, or flip any magazine and you’d notice the trend yourself, if you haven’t already.
I used to work with an actor-model when he was starting out and he used to say, “Gagawin ko lahat para maibalik sa Pinoy ang trabaho.” (I will do everything to bring Pinoy models back our work opportunities). He worked hard, kept fit, honed his craft and went on to become one of today’s most popular mainstream stars. It’s just one little success story, but I took it to heart. Today, I see everything I do as an opportunity to make it and be able to say, “You don’t have to be of a certain descent or skin color to get to where you want.”
Shai: When I was younger, I auditioned for a TV project. After my turn, I was told flat out by the casting panel, “You’re really good and we want to get you, but the audiences will want something else.” They ended up casting a pretty Caucasian who couldn’t act or memorize lines. The project eventually bombed. Rejection is part of the industry I work in, and it would’ve been fine each time it was because I screwed up or wasn’t right for the part. But what stung was each time that it was because I’m not the typical Pinoy standard of beauty: porcelain skin, aquiline nose, bright-colored eyes.
So when I got to work for a teen magazine and then as producer for TV shows, I made the most of the opportunity: since everyone else was already pitching the standards, I made sure Pinay models and local talent weren’t ignored—those who weren’t just book-worthy because of a foreign-sounding last name or paper-white complexion, but models who actually knew how to pose and project, whose faces were actually for modeling. Talents who actually had talent other than smiling about their easy-earned stardom.
We get to talk often with teens and young adults about their personal issues, and colonial mentality and the insecurities it brings is one that affects us most. We’re happy to notice the changes for the better: morenos and morenas taking the international fashion world by storm, global artists of Pinoy descent proud of their roots, among others. But with something as recent as the cover photo brouhaha, it’s obvious we have a long way to go. We’ll just have to keep doing the little things we can until we get there.