MANILA — Even before its opening night last week, “Maid in Malacanang” was shaping up to be the most talked-about film of the year in the …
MANILA — Even before its opening night last week, “Maid in Malacanang” was shaping up to be the most talked-about film of the year in the Philippines.
The almost two-hour drama portrays the Marcos family’s last days in the presidential palace before being forced into exile by a pro-democracy revolt in 1986.
“We did everything for this country after World War II, only to be destroyed by the people who yearn for 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 so the Filipino people will hate us.”
A teary-eyed Mr. Marcos, played by the young actor Diego Loyzaga, consoles his mother as he replies, “I promise, I don’t know how or when, but we will return.”
The Marcoses returned to the Philippines in the 1990s, but the family’s biggest comeback happened in May, when Mr. Marcos, the son and namesake of the former dictator, was elected president in the most consequential race in three decades. The release of “Maid in Malacanang,” a big-budget production starring two famous actors, is seen as a sort of victory lap for the new president and his family.
“This is a work of truth,” Imee Marcos said at the movie’s premiere. One of Mr. Marcos’s sisters, she was the movie’s creative producer and executive producer. “We waited 36 years for this story to come out.”
Despite the corruption and tax evasion cases against the family, many Filipinos consider the Marcoses something like royalty, an idea that the film plays on while furthering the myth that they were victims of a political vendetta.
More than 30 million people voted for Mr. Marcos in May, allowing him to clinch the presidency with the largest vote margin in more than 30 years. Nearly half the country believes the family was unjustly forced to flee.
But many of Mr. Marcos’s detractors say he won the election because of a yearslong 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 to rewrite the narrative.
The movie is told through the eyes of three maids who worked for the Marcoses during the years leading up the 1986 People Power revolution, when hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Manila to protest against a family that they saw as corrupt.
The film portrays the former dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for over two decades, as a soft leader incapable of violence — a popular talking point among Marcos family supporters online. The movie also portrays the Marcoses as ordinary people who love simple food, even as they surround themselves with designer bags and jewelry.
What the film does not mention: the widespread public anger over the family’s excesses, such as Imelda Marcos’s 1,060 pairs of shoes. Also missing is any mention of the tens of thousands of people who were tortured during martial law.
“I was not alive during the term of president Marcos, 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 opening night.
“I did not know that he wanted to avoid bloodshed, and until the last minute, he was thinking of the Filipino people,” said Ms. Amores Faypon-Sicat, 29.
Darryl Yap, the director, said the decision to make the film came only after the presidential election, though he had done some preliminary work ahead of that time. He said the landslide win for Mr. Marcos was “an overwhelming testament that the Filipino people are ready to hear the side of the Marcoses.”
Speaking to a select audience at the July 29 premiere, Mr. Yap said the film was the first time that viewers were given an opportunity to watch a film about the Marcos family that was not based on the opposition’s narrative.
Not everyone has been receptive.
Members of the Roman Catholic clergy condemned the depiction of Corazon Aquino, the leader of the opposition, playing mahjong with nuns from the Carmelite monastery in Cebu Province at the height of the protests. One leader of the church has called for a boycott of the movie.
Sister Mary Melanie Costillas, the head of the monastery, said the truth was that the nuns were praying and fasting during the demonstrations, fearful that the elder Mr. Marcos would find Mrs. Aquino, who was sheltering at the monastery to avoid being detained. At that time, there were reports that Mr. Marcos had issued a shoot-to-kill order against Mrs. Aquino.
“The attempt to distort history is reprehensible,” Sister Costillas said in a statement. She said that the mahjong scene “would trivialize whatever contribution we had to democracy.”
The actress playing Irene Marcos, the Marcoses’ youngest child, fueled outrage after she likened the accusations against the family and the details of the father’s human rights abuses to “gossip.”
Historians and artists say the movie has opened up a new front in the battle against misinformation in the Philippines, taking something that was once mostly online and bringing it into a new domain.
“I now feel that the struggle has shifted to the cultural sphere,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, 71, a renowned playwright. He said that the movie mainly targets the younger generation who never experienced martial law. “They are vulnerable to disinformation. They are the market of the film because they lack historical sense.”
Mr. Ilagan, who was tortured during the Marcos years, has teamed up with Joel Lamangan, a well-known movie director, to make a film to counter the narrative of “Maid in Malacanang.” Mr. Lamangan was the first member of the local directors guild to publicly denounce the Marcos-backed film as “pure nonsense,” which he said resulted in death threats.
They expect financing their project to be a challenge. “It will be an uphill climb because we have no producer and we have no money,” said Mr. Lamangan, 69, who is also a martial law victim. “But we are trying to do crowdfunding.”
“Maid in Malacanang” was bankrolled by a major local film production company known for producing blockbusters in the Philippines.
The underlying narrative of the film is centered 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 retreated from war.”
A weeping Irene responds: “I will make sure that the truth will come out and history will tell your grandkids who you really are.”
Mr. Marcos tells his daughter that the opposition was “mad at us because we come from the province. They are mad at us because the people love us. But still, I can’t make myself get angry at them.”
At the premiere, the audience applauded.