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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
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.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

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."