‘1521—the Movie,’ Olivia Rodrigo and Me
People notice I say my last name “Gil-yermo,” not “Gee-Yermo.” “Gil-yermo” is the way Filipinos say my name, and I honor the Filipinos not the colonizers.
Many of my friends and relatives don’t get it. But for me, it’s my way of killing the colonizer every time I say my name.
Come on, it’s 2023. Don’t you think it’s time we all kill the colonizer? Every chance we can get? You can on Oct. 2 from just about any AMC theater in the country.
If you’re a Filipino of any stripe, half, full, green card, naturalized, by marriage, by food, or by bro-hood, you can get the thrill of seeing a Hollywood movie that gets it right.
One with the narrative where Filipinos win. And the colonizer loses. Take your bolos and sabers to any AMC for one day only in October, Monday night, Oct. 2, to watch the movie, “1521.”
It’s the film where Lapu-Lapu, the fearless Filipino leader and not the fish, triumphs over the Portuguese circumnavigator who sailed for Spain, Ferdinand Magellan.
Not to be confused with another Ferdinand nearly 500 years later who pilfered the country’s coffers and essentially “colonized” the country for himself.
No that movie has a new musical and I will talk about it more next week. This movie comes courtesy of producer Francis B. Lara-Ho, who met me in New York just hours before a special “1521” billboard appeared for 24 hours in Times Square.
Seeing a splashy ad was almost but not quite like seeing the film itself. Still, the quick message to the throngs of people who visited Times Square Labor Day weekend was gratifying for the film producer.
“It’s a vindication and an affirmation of our mission to let the world know about the Filipino’s greatness and heroism,” said Lara-Ho, a Chinese Filipino who went from humble beginnings in the Philippines to immigrate to the U.S., where he was able to achieve his dream of leading the multi-million-dollar Hollywood movie project. “People come to Times Square from all over the world, and now they can see who we are. We are people of honor and class. We are not barbarians. That was our main mission.”
“1521” stars Danny Trejo, the character actor often seen in movies as an ornery hard-edged Latino bad guy. When you see him, you know him. He’s got mean in his genes. Then there’s a Filipino American actor named Michael Copon, who plays Lapu- Lapu. There’s also a key love story mixed in it all. Not between the two of them, but there is a love interest. Still the headline isn’t the love part, it’s that Trejo, as the colonizer Magellan, gets it in the end.
But how? And by whom exactly? The important details of Magellan’s demise are explored in the film. Was it really at the hands of Lapu-Lapu? His warriors? Was Magellan beheaded? Or was it another body part?
And then there’s the overall narrative that needs correcting, the existing one that portrays Magellan as discovering a backwards Philippines for Spain.
“We weren’t savages hanging on trees,” said Lara-Ho who added that the Philippines was a highly civilized society with an honor code. And it had women in positions of similar or equal power to men.
They were ready to fight off Magellan, who arrived with boats, guns and manpower. “We had valor and bravery because we were fighting for our survival, our freedom,” said Lara-Ho, “while [Magellan and Spain] were fighting for their economic interest.”
That underdog spirit of Filipinos in the film is imbued in the entire project. Made in record time, “1521” cost a fraction of a typical Hollywood movie, and nowhere near the “Barbie” movie’s $145 million budget, according to Lara-Ho.
The film has recently been enhanced and trimmed down to about 90 minutes from an original 2 hour-plus run time. And now Lara-Ho feels confident “1521” is ready for a nationwide distributor.
But first comes the test. He’s got to prove that people want to see it. And that’s the significance of the nationwide showing at AMC theaters. It’s just one day, Monday, Oct. 2, at 7 pm local time.
The numbers swirl in Lara-Ho’s head. If just ten percent of 4 million Filipinos in the country show up, that would be 400,000. That would help prove there is a national audience for a film like “1521.”
More realistically, even a 1 percent turnout, 40,000, on a one-day screening, would show a significant demand. And what if just a handful of the other 22 million or so Asian Americans who know about colonization respond?
Indians, Pakistanis, and other South Asians dealt with the British. So did the Hong Kongers, the Singaporeans, the Malay, the Burmese. Vietnamese had the French.
Wouldn’t that be something if a number of us joined in to see the Filipinos give it to Magellan? It would prove to Hollywood that our stories, our histories really matter. And that a large number of us want to see them depicted. Now.
I admit being amok envious of Olivia Rodrigo
When I was in New York I only wished my show that also deals with history, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host: A Phool’s Filipino American History,” drew a fraction of what Olivia Rodrigo pulled in for a free concert at the Today Show in Rockefeller Center.
On TV, Rodrigo showed us all that her star keeps rising with no sign of letting up. Throngs of fans came in to New York City to see her debut her new album “GUTS.” (The song “Vampire” is a great pop song.)
Rodrigo is a storyteller with words and music, telling tales of teenage angst that attract millions of listeners worldwide. As she sang from the plaza, her fans mouthed each lyric as if gospel.
Audiences don’t exactly mouth the words to my show as I say them. “Emil Amok” is more spontaneous and subject to change. But Rodrigo’s fans show us how our stories–Filipino, Filipino American, Asian American–can be both unique and universal.
When we hit that sweet spot and strike a nerve, there’s a larger audience than anyone thinks for the stories we must tell.That’s what all us storytellers want—a connection to where it really matters to you.
Find the theater near you with a showing of “1521” Oct. 2, at 7pm (local) or https://www.fathomevents.com/events/1521-the-quest-for-love-and-freedom
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator who writes a column for the North American Bureau.