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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.