News / Arts & Entertainment

Q&A with Drew Stephens: Making ‘Prinsesa’

Prinsesa was written and directed by Drew Stephens.
Prinsesa was written and directed by Drew Stephens.
Ray Kouguell

A group of guys sitting around watching boxing on television is kind of the quintessential macho thing to do. In a short movie called Prinsesa, that’s what a 28 year old Filipino-American father named Rey is doing with two buddies, and also taking care of his young son and daughter while Mom is out. An earthquake suddenly hits, plunging them all into darkness and making the children very scared.

After finding some candles, Rey tries to calm them down with a story based on a traditional dance in the Philippines called a singkil. It is the tale of a beautiful princess in the forest who is the envy of all around her, and a heroic warrior prince.

Rey’s son, six-year-old Jojo, is entranced, saying he wants to be the princess with beautiful long hair, wearing a necklace of bells around his neck. Jojo starts to dance, imagining himself as the princess. The father’s two friends, now without their sports fix on television, get very irritated watching the boy’s actions and belittle their host about the boy’s tendencies.

Rey orders them to get out of the house and is forced to question his own parenting skills. Prinsesa writer and director Drew Stephens tells this seemingly simple story of a sensitive matter in a most captivating way. Live actors are animated into backgrounds with vivid color for the singkil portion of the story.

VOA’s Ray Kouguell spoke with Stephens, who lives in San Francisco, about how he came up with the idea of making a film about gender identification and using Philippine culture to make the point.

Q&A with Drew Stephens: Making ‘Prinsesa’
Q&A with Drew Stephens: Making ‘Prinsesa’i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

STEPHENS: I married into a Filipino family. More than 20 years ago. Of course, I fell in love with the culture including their rich culture of epic storytelling. By far my favorite Filipino traditional tale is the singkil. It’s a dance actually and it tells about a princess who dances through an earthquake. She’s with her loyal entourage and they carefully dance around the dangerous, falling bamboo trees and the Kulintang gongs and the drums are echoing through the forest and it’s just really powerful and I knew that someday I wanted to share the singkil in a film. But I just really needed a modern day story to pair with the traditional backdrop.

KOUGUELL: What familiarity did the actors and actresses you used have about the traditional story and dance?

STEPHENS: I knew that I had some dancers who could play the princess and her entourage but the actors all came from Bindlestiff Studio which is a Filipino performing arts group in San Francisco and they had never danced. So Patrick Silvestre who plays the father had never danced the singkil at all and had to learn it for this film, as did both the boy and the girl.

KOUGUELL: How did you decide to combine the singkil with gender identification?

STEPHENS: Singkil is thought to have originated in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, specifically of the Maranao people around Lake Lanao. And one of the interesting things about that is that it was originally danced all by women that would play all the roles whether male or female. When the parents tell traditional tales that go back hundreds and hundreds of years, do modern day children see themselves in these traditional tales and what if they don’t, can we change the tales without losing our cultural identity?

KOUGUELL: Is the Filipino-American community especially sensitive to the gender identification issue?

STEPHENS: There’s a term called “Backla” which is typically a very effeminate boy so I think that Filipinos in general are open to that concept but if you spoke to people raised within that culture you’ll find strongly defined gender roles. Especially men are expected to act a certain way.

KOUGUELL: Is the film offering advice on parenting skills and dealing with identity conflict?

STEPHENS: What I tried to do was portray the confusion from the father’s perspective and I think the writers made a conscious decision not to tell people how to feel, what to do or how to parent but to show the confusion and indecision that some parents might face. In fact, if people leave the theatre and say, “Hmm, that’s not how I would do it” or “what would I do?” then we’ve succeeded with what we wanted to do with this film. So yeah, I think the overall message is that we really want to embrace all of our children and frankly, my point was to salute the parents who do just that. They’re like superheroes to me.

KOUGUELL: Stephens’ film Prinsesa uses an all-volunteer crew of 40 people and is beautifully complemented by an original score from Emmy award-winning composer Mitchell Covington. While the film does raise questions about non-gender conforming children, there are answers to fit any parent-child relationship. They are all matters of love and acceptance. Prinsesa offers a visually unique look, one that has already been successful at independent film festivals in the United States and Mumbai, India. 

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."