Velez: Panther, Bagani, Lumads

BLACK America is celebrating Black Panther, a movie that represents African roots and power on film. But meanwhile, an upcoming local fantasy TV series called Bagani, is getting all the flak.

So what went wrong with Bagani, and what did Black Panther get it right? It's about representation.

Black Panther is about Africa. It casts Black actors. It tells of an African king and warrior named T'Challa, who first appeared in Captain America: Civil War. It tells of how he assumes his role as king, protector and symbol of the fictional country called Wakanda against its ambitious enemies. The film also is layered with costumes that appropriate real African royalty and warriors, and a soundtrack that boasts of Black awareness.

Its release comes at a time when America is politically and culturally charged with the Black Lives Matter movement that fights racism, police violence, and the hate culture stirred by the Trump presidency. Another Marvel TV series on Netflix, Luke Cage also shares similar themes of protecting the streets in Harlem from violence and giving hope for the Black community.

Black Panther imagines the utopian African country of Wakanda free from the shackles of colonialism. It imagines what happens when a country can harness its own mineral resources (called vibranium, the metal used for Captain America's shield) for its own development in technology. Contrast that to the reality of mining exploitation that has been happening in Africa, such as the black diamond mining.

It is a film that connects to current issues and injects the ideal of Black consciousness, pride and struggles for equality and justice.

These are points we need to consider with the upcoming TV series Bagani. It's still premature to shut down the series, but we do have to take note on such criticisms raised by netizens and celebrities who point out why this series is casting Filipino actors of mix descent such as Fil-American Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil, who is of German-Spanish descent. It indeed looks awkward to have fair-skinned actors with mestizo and mestiza features baked in brown make up. Here is an example of our state of culture, where tisoy and tisay bankable actors are cast to make a TV series click.

Another issue is how we compare these baganis on screen to the real baganis or Lumads, how truly representational this series would be to the culture, tradition and plight of the indigenous peoples. We have to take note how the real Lumads are complaining how their culture is "bastardized" by the armed forces who recruit paramilitary Lumads and name them as "Bagani Force" or "Alamara" (the Manobo term for warrior). They also lament how indigenous culture has been reduced to a cultural tourism attraction.

The Bagani series is produced by ABS-CBN, and I'm reminded years ago that this same station produced the reality show Pinoy Big Brother, where male contestants naively made fun of a contest in wearing the Igorot bahag. After that, the indigenous organization Katribu wrote to the station to point out how such actions diminished the cultural symbolism and importance of the indigenous garb, and the integrity of customs and traditions that the Igorots defend along with their ancestral domain and self-determination.

Lumads are always in the margins. Yet there are efforts through Mindanao movies such as Tu Pug Imatuy that strive to represent the Mindanao Lumads and Moro peoples' struggles and aspirations. There are also efforts to build Lumad schools to preserve their pride on their cultures and traditions.

I may not have high expectations from this TV series anyway, but let this teach us the value of accurate cultural representation in films, schools and other forms of arts to popularize and elevate the indigenous culture and stories.

*****

(tyvelez@gmail.com)
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