Filipino American Stories That Matter
With the rise of Asian American films, such as the Academy Award-nominated Minari and the popular independent film The Farewell, Asian American cultures and identities are being regarded in Hollywood and mainstream media more often.
Asian filmmakers are telling impactful, cultural stories about struggles, immigration, family values, overcoming adversity, and redefining what it means to be American.
For actor and director, Dante Basco, this is the movement for Asian-American cinema. The moment where authentic Asian-American stories reflect our sincere selves on-screen, moving away from common stereotypes and “model minority” themes prevalent in Hollywood.
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, Basco’s solo directorial debut, follows four Filipino American brothers as they wrestle with their past and engage in absurd shenanigans. At the heart of the movie is the theme of overcoming emotional struggles leading up to the classic Filipino occasion, a wedding.
Basco and his brother Darion Basco – who co-wrote and co-starred in the film – inject a culturally specific comedy as an ode to the Filipino American experience. The result is a spotlight on some of the best traits of Filipino culture and some not-so-subtle commentary on the flaws.
Cold Tea Collective sat down with the brothers to discuss their film, Filipino culture, their fabulous upbringing and what it truly means to be an Asian-American.
Showcasing Asian actors in leading roles
In Hollywood, we rarely see Filipino men in leading roles. For Dante, it was crucial to challenge this and create a platform showcasing the extent talent from Filipino American actors.
For the film, we get not one but four male Filipino American actors in lead roles. Dante and Darion Basco starred alongside their two other brothers –Derek and Dionysio Basco.
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers thus exhibits each brother as a star of their own vignette in order to portray Filipino American men as “totally delineated and not interchangeable with each other.” Darion also described how they crafted the brothers’ characters towards the strengths and personalities of the Basco actors.
“I’ve seen [my brothers] perform throughout their whole life, from breakdancing to theater to film, small roles, big roles,” Dante said. “The reality is, you only get to audition for what [casting directors] want to show you do. And a lot of times, it’s only a fraction of what you can do. I want to show the world and Hollywood what these guys can really do.”
The Basco brothers, who have not starred opposite one another on-screen for almost twenty years since The Debut and The Naked Brown Men, have been chasing Hollywood for the last thirty years. Both individually and together. From working on-screen to producing theater pieces and showcases, Dante and Darion said they spent their lives watching each other grow as artists.
“The reality is, whether you’re black, Asian, Latino – 99 percent of us that come to Hollywood never actually get to do what you can actually do,” Dante said.
Telling authentic Filipino stories about family
In the film, the four brothers are isolated in their own predicament but are never really alone. The idea of family is a core value in the film, as it is in Filipino culture and society. It is foundational to the tight knit bonds between characters. A reflection of the actual connection between them as brothers.
“Family is what anchors us and is there to support us,” said Dante Basco, when describing the common thread that binds the four stories together. “So, through all of our calamities in life, there’s always a leaning on family.”
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers not only brings the siblings together on-screen again, but also highlights their upbringing and the hometown that provided never ending support throughout their careers.
Playing wedding goers and characters at community functions are their real parents, relatives, and family friends. While growing up oceans away from the homeland, their cultural roots are held strong by a community and family that nurtured them.
“Like every artist who leaves town to go chase your dreams in Hollywood, you feel alone out there in the world,” said Dante, “What you realize is, even though at times in this industry you feel all alone, these people have been with you the whole time. Back home, they’ve been rooting for our family. By following every news clip, watching every one line you did on a TV show… They’ve been there the whole time, supporting us and watching from afar.”
Asian stories matter, flaws and all
Bahala na – “come what may” – serves as a key saying in the film. The narrator, voiced by Arianna Basco who is another Basco sibling, described Filipinos as being good at adapting. Yet Darion Basco said it is also about acceptance and getting through what comes.
He stressed the desire to tell stories about the genuine human experience, including cultural flaws and overcoming adversity. While the film is a comedy at its heart, it addresses topics typically hushed in Filipino culture. Things like as mental health issues and adultery. Most importantly, the film shows how the brothers work to get through such dark situations.
For them, it’s a shift from earlier Asian-American generations. Here elder generations, coming from a time where Asian representation was uncommon, may have desired strictly positive representation on-screen. However, Dante and Darion dispute the model minority trope prominent in Hollywood’s past.
Like their characters, the real-life Basco siblings are second-generation Filipino Americans from a blue-collar family that don’t fluently speak their native tongue.
That alone can leave feelings of not being Asian enough for individuals and families. But the Bascos encouraged future generations to not be so hard on themselves, to try to stay connected to the family and keep asking questions.
“This is what we want to talk about,” Darion explained, recognizing that Asian-American generations are constantly learning and changing. “This is how we confront [these issues] and how we grow generationally together, to tell our American stories.”
Creating opportunities and platforms for other Asian creatives
An equally important signal about how the industry needs to change, the film features music by Filipino artists, such as singer-songwriter AJ Rafael, who scored the soundtrack. As filmmakers, Dante and Darion recognized that their work is “not just about them”.
“It’s our time to make movies,” said Dante on Filipino American filmmakers. “Our story matters.”
For Dante and Darion Basco, the wave of Asian American cinema today – that uses its platform to conduct sincere storytelling and make a cultural impact – is not only a movement involving Asian filmmakers, but the viewership as well.
Darion points to how Hollywood judges business by numbers. Thus he encourages the audience to show support for independent, culturally specific films such as The Fabulous Filipino Brothers.
“It’s about creating platforms for other artists, especially the next generation, and giving people opportunities to shine; to introduce new talent to the world and show how vibrant our culture is,” Dante said.
Dante underlines that the “Filipino story” is part of this larger movement in Asian American cinema. For our stories to continue to be told, we as an audience must continue to support these films, to speak through ticket sales and downloading the movie.
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