Screenshot from Ang Huling El Bimbo: The Musical
‘Ang Huling El Bimbo: The Musical’ [AHEB] evokes a lot of emotions but feels empty. It raises several social issues but lacks follow-through. The events are inorganic. The story uses women as plot devices to further the plot.
I’ve seen several movies that portray social issues. Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017) portrays the exploitative nature of institutions. John Denver Trending (2019) explores the extremes of “trial by social media” and bullying. Die Beautiful (2016) focuses the spotlight on the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m not new to socially relevant media, so to say that this is the source of my distaste for AHEB is far from the truth.
My reason, then, is how this reflection falls flat. It’s almost as if the play is scared of what it might uncover about gender violence, class struggles, and all the other issues it tries to shed light on.
Can women’s stories be told by men?
The main issue—and the biggest injustice there is in the story—is Joy’s life. As an audience, I can tell that the play wants to follow Joy’s story. AHEB wants to show that she has dreams, despite being less privileged than her peers. Joy is resilient and optimistic. Joy’s story is compelling, but can a woman’s story be told through the perspective of men? [Hint: the answer is no.]
As a woman, I simply cannot trust men. Not when I’m drunk. Not when I’m walking down the street. Not when they’re simply standing next to me. Therefore, to entrust them of telling my story is greatly overreaching. Besides, the oppressed can never count on their oppressors to tell their stories.
As if this choice in storytelling is not enough to disrespect Joy’s struggles, the musical ends with all the main characters singing with hopeful eyes and their hands held high, on top of an outlined car. Sure, the musical recreates a pivotal moment in the story, but it also romanticizes the very source of Joy’s trauma. I never thought I would have to say this, but one cannot and should not pour confetti on a rape scene. Not in real life. Not in art.”
“And then what?”
There’s no doubt that AHEB tried so hard to cover as many social issues as possible, but I found myself asking, “and then what?”
Joy experiences trauma—and then what? Women turn to means that go against their values due to socioeconomic reasons—and then what? A character is beaten up by his homophobic father—and then what?
Disappointingly, I never got my answers. Somebody argued that the answer to my question should happen in real life. To answer my question, I should do my own introspection. Unfortunately, that’s not how literature works. If it’s all about “reflecting society” then we wouldn’t need to study literary devices, techniques, etc.
Art mimics life, but art should also be aware that it’s not life itself. Art should be aware that it’s powerful enough to impact other people’s lives, more so how they perceive key issues in society.
The criticism surrounding this play should teach storytellers to be more responsible with their narratives. You’re not just telling stories because you want to. You tell them to start a conversation, influence it, and bring it forward. These are the responsibilities that the artist upholds.