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Writer’s Recap: #JusticeForYna

Yna is doomed. That much is clear from the beginning. But what we see at the start is far from any picture of pity. If the bright music didn’t convince you, there’s plenty of other proof she is happy. A well-made bed. A pretty smile. A post-it the shade of sunshine that says “Kaya ko ‘to!” But look closer, and you’ll see the cracks beneath the surface.

(I can do this!)

#JusticeForYna premiered last December 19 on its Facebook page, with a subsequent open forum and discussion with distinguished guests. Initially starting as a class project, the film slowly gained momentum into something more impactful. Rhicki Bermudez (I, AB-DVS), the project’s team leader, emphasized, “We need to realize that we can’t keep compromising for the failure and incompetence of our government as they continue to redirect our attention by attributing it to our resiliency.”

Taking inspiration from social media discussions on “resiliency porn”, the organizers created the short film to examine the complicated link between our romanticization of Filipino resiliency and government responsibility. They chose to personify it in Yna. And so her story begins.

Silence and resilience

Set in our current quarantined reality, the film introduces Yna as an aspiring college student. She’s a victim of familiar but harsh circumstances—with an unattached Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) father, she looks after herself while living with an iron-fisted uncle. Yet she greets each day with an endless rosy smile—even as she struggles to make ends meet. She calls herself “girl diskarte” after all. But when the abuses of her uncle begin to mount from a mere siphoning of her academic funds to increasingly physical and sexual acts, things fall apart.

A knock on the door in the dead of night. Yna is curled up in the corner of the bed; in the foreground, blood stains the sheets. The next day, she bears the truth in a call with her friend. Her uncle had raped her. Right after, the scene crumbles into further chaos; her friend is left in disbelief as she scrambles to meet her father, who had arrived home unexpectedly. But in a gut-wrenching twist, her father only took advantage of her vulnerabilities. “Nabalitaan ko pinagbigyan mo kapatid ko. Bakit ako hindi pwede? […] Sayang. Ako dapat ang nauna,” he says in a voiceover—a line that ominously parallels a quote from our own president. From there, a reeling supercut begins: her crumpled post-it, her empty savings, her bloodstained sheets. We see her tired smiles fade with each day, and rapid cuts to a close-up razor show the grim end already planted in her mind. 

(I heard that you let my brother have you. Why won’t you let me? […] What a shame. I should’ve been first.)

The film ends with an extended video message from her friend. He talks at length about the unjust coverup of the reasons behind her suicide. Her uncle and father roam free, the fault that they carry hidden by their celebration of Yna’s outwardly radiant life. The film moves on to make its underlying message more explicit. We see scenes of the country—the bare minimum nourishment of pagpag, the routine domestic abuse of OFWs, the endless corruption scandals, and the chauvinistic, brutal declarations of our national leaders. It ends with a strong call to action: “Manawagan tayo upang mapanagot ang may sala. Hindi na sapat ang abuloy at donasyon. Kailangan na rin natin ng boses at aksyon.”

(Let us rally to have those at fault held accountable. It’s no longer enough to rely on charity and donations. We need a voice and action.)

Art and activism 

Following the film viewing, an open forum was held to discuss the film’s themes and its message. A.G. Saño, a muralist and environmental advocate, opened the session on art and activism. With the concept of “artivism,” Saño believes that art can be a way to change the world. 

He recalls an early encounter with the much-romanticized Filipino resiliency. Photographing the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, he saw two children playing with water guns amid dead bodies and rubble and realized that our culture seemed to enshrine this spirit. But several years later, after multiple climate disasters, he reconsiders this resiliency, believing that we now ought to call for accountability and climate justice.  

Indeed, it’s this reworking of resiliency that the film addresses. By using film as a medium for protest, #JusticeForYna attacks the state-endorsed narrative of the Filipino fighting spirit. Saño relates this too to the film’s message, saying that “‘yung helplessness ng Filipino, ‘ginagamot’ ng pag-romanticize ng pagiging malakas ng Filipino. […] Naiiwasan pag-usapan ang tunay na dahilan ng paghihirap at paghihinagpis.”

(The helplessness of the Filipino is “cured” by the romanticization of Filipino resiliency […] The discussion on who is truly responsible for our difficulties and sufferings is avoided.)

Politics and accountability

A later session examined how resiliency is deeply rooted in our society. Aileen Brillon, an associate professor at the UP College of Mass Communication Broadcast Communication Department, shares that resiliency is an ideology. On its own, our capacity to bounce back from catastrophes has both positive and negative aspects. Before examining Filipino resiliency, Brillon reminds us that its prevalence may point to how it’s a characteristic that our society—from the political to economic sphere—values and encourages.

One of the forces that propagate this narrative of resiliency is the media. In the wake of disasters, we often hear stories that feature bayanihan and katatagan. “Filipinos love the underdogs. We love a good Cinderella story, and resiliency narratives started from these kinds of stories,” Brillon shares. Filipinos smiling and waving in spite of tragedy fit this perfectly. Admittedly, rooting for the “Filipino spirit” to beat the odds is empowering—until, Brillon warns, “it is abused and until it hides a very important fact, which is government neglect.” 

Here lies the danger of believing the media’s single story of resiliency. Resiliency might be construed as part of a “toxic positivity culture.” Brillion elaborates, saying “In lieu of news about protest, about demanding for change, we get stories about good vibes and how we can overcome this adversity by holding each other’s hands.” 
In pondering the lingering effects of the film, Brillon mentions that she constructed an alternate ending. “There were instances na hindi tahimik si Yna,” she says, imagining an ending where Yna is alive and speaks out against her abusers. In this way, Brillon leaves us with a powerful message, that even in the face of oppression, we cannot let Filipino resiliency silence our call for government accountability. This, I suppose, is the kind of happy ending that all of us Filipinos wish for our country. The task falls on us to make it happen.

By Lance Spencer Yu

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