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Monday, May 20, 2024

‘The Kingmaker’ is not just a history refresher, it’s a reminder

7 min readWith the throne in opulent display and deceitful regalia from ear to ear, the kingmaker and other narrators of history sit before us to recount the truth of the past from within their eyes in this 2019 documentary by Lauren Greenfield.
Profile picture of Sophia Katherine Sarmiento

Published over 2 years ago on October 27, 2021

by Sophia Katherine Sarmiento

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(Photo courtesy of PalabasTayo)

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With the throne in opulent display and deceitful regalia from ear to ear, the kingmaker and other narrators of history sit before us to recount the truth of the past from within their eyes in this 2019 documentary by Lauren Greenfield.

The Kingmaker starts off with somber yet contempt-driven music that traverses the outskirts of Manila to a sidelong view of Imelda Marcos in her private car. After stopping at a red light, kids started crowding around her window due to the P50 paper bills she was willingly giving away to the distressed; her voice resonating the somber expression on her face from seeing the frantic children.

After riding away, she resentfully stated how Manila has turned into a land more so filled with the desperate needs and cries of the destitute regardless of its domineering stature, from this 'little paradise' that they once governed and reigned over.

Imelda subsequently visited one of her projects, the Philippine Children's Medical Center. With a hint of plaintiveness in her voice and expression, she doles out more blue paper bills from her blue-colored handbag to give away to the cancer patients. The thank you's were quietly spoken and grateful grins were fixed on the parents' faces.

The film then transitions to undoubtedly one of the most crucial scenes where she gets prepped for the interview from her regal couch. In a few fleeting seconds, her bashfulness towards her appearance settles in and Imelda was asked to look straight at the camera.

Except for the fact that she doesn't.

The historic beginnings of a wildly driven desire to aim for 'more'

(Photo courtesy of The Kingmaker)

(Photo courtesy of The Kingmaker)

"An unreliable narrator," Greenfield remarked in one of her interviews.

This isn't your typical power-grabbing story of a king fancying control for more domains. This was a part of history when a multitude of voices became restrained, and the truth was merely reduced to a repeated lie spanning up to this generation. From watching the film, Imelda's narrative clashed forces with eyewitnesses and victims' testimonies in plain sight.

Power exudes through words and misshapen storytelling. From the facets of Imelda's reality, she enjoyed the ideal nature of 'mothering' for her country yet continued to be oblivious to the narratives underneath her definition of beauty. Excess was charming, but the spending seemed too unreasonable and overwhelming. Her shrewd thinking of excess was way across the border of normalcy, despite her intentions of beautifying her own country (and the whole world).

Greenfield originally wanted the documentary's premise to be centered around Imelda's private safari island in the country, specifically situated in the island of Calauit --- former home to the indigenous group of the Tagbanwa.

Her private safari looked almost like the icing on the cake on her venture for a country adorned as pretty as a picture. 254 families formerly residing on the island became victims of their impulsiveness, evicting them from their homes and depriving them of their freedom to speak candidly for themselves as native locals. But as the animals ultimately suffered from the Marcoses' spontaneity, their hold on the seats of authority clamped down even further for a lasting and absurdly deep-rooted dynasty in Philippine politics.

"My projects, I did not only make them good and right; it had to be beautiful. And beauty, really, is the extravagance of love."

But her love can be a clear euphemism of the ambiguous desire to retain power in the Marcos name in spite of their disreputable ill-gotten wealth.

"Sa simula, siya'y isang kalansay na napahahabag, at nagwakas na isang makapangyarihan, palalong diyos."* --- *Edgardo M. Reyes, Sa Kuko ng Liwanag

(Photo courtesy of IMDB)

(Photo courtesy of IMDB)

Gold might just be their definition of the new black

Contents of Philippine history under the reign of the Marcoses were unpacked in this documentary with abundance --- a good history refresher, might I add. The one thing I could never shake off while gawking at my screen is the grandiose display of wealth in every frame she appeared on in her interview. The abuse of power was also there, and the entrenched might to twist a perspective and ignore all other accounts.

The introductory clips were in itself stomach-churning --- a powerful way to rouse the emotion without experiencing it firsthand.

A subtle power-flex was inserted (purposefully) in the film as if the clip was meant for behind-the-scenes footage rather than part of the documentary itself.

In this particular scene, Imelda was showing the sundry framed images of her travels and official meet-ups with relevant people (e.g. noteworthy leaders of countries, dictators, and even the Royal Family), heedless of noticing one of the pictures falling and glass breaking. Greenfield simply stated in another interview that this was a powerful 'character moment' expressing carelessness amidst the wreckage in her personality and the ways of her actions.

Further on in the film, Imelda was celebrating her birthday with an audience, years after her family returned from their exile in Hawaii. She amusingly jokes, "O, sino may gusto ng sapatos --- do you want a taste of my shoes?"

I might not have to explain further how ironically menacing that was despite it being her attempt at a joke in a room filled with cameras, applauding people, and golden furniture. King Midas might already be jealous now of the way she turns everything into a begrudgingly golden moment where everyone has their eyes set upon her, ears unquestionably listening, and actions rashly following the words uttered by her mouth.

Martial Law stirred up more quagmire for society, yet more power for their ill-gotten legacy

"They found no skeletons, only beautiful shoes."

Marcos' ruling was notoriously treated as the 'Golden Age' of the Philippines because of an assumingly great economic growth spanning his twenty years of proclaimed presidency in the country. Unfortunately, people were terribly remiss of the actual numbers that depicted a great recession in the economy further along with the dictator's reign with external debts 'skyrocketing' and media censorship on the rise.

Following the declaration of martial law, assault and torture were reeking in the streets; all types of media were censored aside from Marcos' band of publicists and propagandists; and human rights and assertive justice were nowhere to be found than from the tip of a gun, torture, and that of a hefty bribe. The exploitation of workers and corruption grew deep, and the poor became poorer because of existential greed.

Greenfield went further on to interview a few prospects, namely former president Noynoy Aquino, former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights Etta Rosales, activist May Rodriguez, journalist-screenwriter Pete Lacaba, PCGG head Andy Bautista, Bongbong Marcos, Sandro Marcos, and Vice-President Leni Robredo.

Rosales, Rodriguez, and Lacaba were all victims of torture and injustice, as they explicitly recounted the excruciating events of Martial Law forty-nine years ago from now. Back then, activism and press freedom were barraged by a despotic rule that is nowhere near the lines of democracy and more on the lines of silencing.

A sad reality has befallen our society in which a string of killings and violence is already deemed inevitable. Years after the Marcoses were exiled, their efforts for upholding the name's legacy and influence stand up to this day; and little by little, another Marcos becomes elected for a higher seat of authority.

As we see President Rodrigo Duterte take the reins of a country fueled by corruption, dynasties, and drug abuse by the end of the movie, the relevance is uncanny as history might just start to repeat itself yet again.

Repeating history results from repeated lies that distort the nation's reality

"Perception is real, the truth is not."

*The Kingmaker'*s words were spoken and the son has yet to reclaim the throne of the past dictator. Theirperception may be real, but the truth must always prevail.

Disparate words and truths pervade the bubble and atmosphere of any form of media, more exceptionally if the spotlight focuses on the speaker who not only informs but influences. A certain cognitive dissonance is true when hearing one lie and the other, and the truth seems to be shrinking out of sight because of an actively recurring revisionist history.

Historical revisionism is a deliberate attempt of whitewashing facts by altering the course of history through disinformation. In today's digital age, the truths spoken (and written) are mangled to the point of no return; the impact being too compelling to ignore and blindly severing the collective memory and information about an important event in history.

If one person can be swayed by a bulky stack of paper bills and shimmering zeroes, then when will justice play for the victims of an almost erased and distorted history?

The film was already able to feature Bongbong Marcos' election campaign for a Vice-Presidential bid (and knowingly supporting Duterte's presidential campaign aside from his running mate and ex-presidential candidate at the time, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago). Five years later, the country now sees another offense from their side --- a strategy that might be a part of a long-time tactical playbook within their hands. Yet, this time, their eyes are set after the presidential throne.

With the upcoming elections in tow, the spread of fake news is a rampant scheme that knows no boundaries. Revisionism can permeate even through the smallest outlets of information* --- even from small whispers to societal rumors --- *and now through an infamous slew of videos and misguided publicity materials on social media.

Looking at only one side of the coin which shines brightest will not help at all. Turn it over and you might see grime clinging on its surface, hidden underneath the appearance of what we've known for so long.

Facebook and Youtube are just two of the platforms that mutated into a breeding ground for fraudulent and fallacious information. Since everyone is using the platform for reasons that benefit us the most, it is nearly impossible to avoid the ruse of getting hoodwinked towards false facts.

The solution? Do thorough research and engage people to do the same. Never limit the capacity to be aware about history and cease deception. This film can be anyone's refresher, but the understanding doesn't stop there.

In The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Primitivo Mijares wrote:"The night the dark shadows of totalitarianism swallowed the Philippines on September 22, 1972, the intellectual lights went out, along with the other 'inalienable' rights of the Filipino people. President Marcos' military might choked hard at the throats of writers, editors and publishers, and the media facilities. The Philippines went into a deathly journalistic silence."

Greenfield's way of documenting Imelda's narrative was superb and subtle, allowing the smallest intricacies of her wealth and complex demeanor to become explicit by just some simple angles and her movements that made a promising note of exuding power.

It would have been better to see further eyewitnesses but I understood the director's notion of allowing Imelda to become the narrator of her own perception that had a sheer contrast with the others. As a lady that seems to extend her influence throughout the Marcos dynasty and legacy of being involved in politics, then she might just be the most suitable person for the title of 'kingmaker'.

Prometheus' fire will never get snuffed out as another Zeus comes by to ignite conflict within if democracy is upheld and its perpetrators are held accountable. If we don't start to look at things wisely and responsibly and initiate change for the betterment, then history might just repeat itself after all.

Never forget. Never again.

Stream The Kingmaker on iWantTFC for free.

The Kingmaker

Lauren Greenfield

Philippine national elections

Historical revisionism

Imelda Marcos

Profile picture of Sophia Katherine Sarmiento

Sophia Katherine Sarmiento

Blogs Writer

Sophia Katherine Sarmiento is a Blogs Writer at TomasinoWeb. Sophia is an applied physics major and covers endless spectacles in both political and social commentaries. She writes with great enthusiasm for certain advocacies and inserts several metaphors out of nowhere for the purpose of imagery. She enthuses herself in graphic design and digital art in her free time, and loves spending a cozy hour with friends and family over different types and brands of coffee.

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