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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

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

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures