Dolphy and the National Artist Award: more pros than cons
Everyone loves and admires Dolphy. No one will disagree he had the stuff legends are made of. He was, hands down, the King of Comedy who made generations of Filipinos laugh not only at the characters he played but also at themselves—their quirks, their follies and foibles, their very Pinoy-ness—as they connected with his portrayals.
Dolphy united the people in laughter, whether he was playing gay (Facifica Falayfay, Fefita Fofonggay) or straight (John Puruntong, Kevin Cosme). In his death, the nation mourned as one.
Still, there is one aspect of the man that continues to divide public opinion.
Losing the National Artist title
The controversy over the National Award he didn’t get to win while he was alive goes on after his death. Should he or shouldn’t he have won it long ago? And will he now win it posthumously?
There is no quarrel over his prodigious talent to make his audience laugh (and cry), his contribution to the shaping of Pinoy humor, his iconic place in the movie industry. To be sure, his colleagues in the industry have been all out in endorsing him for the award.
What could have cost him the coveted National Award, it now surfaces, was his stereotype portrayal of the effeminate gay man.
Dolphy might have won the award as early as 2009 if not for opposition by film critic and UP Professor Emeritus Nicanor Tiongson, according to Cecile Guidote Alvarez, whose National Artist Award that same year was also blocked by several artist-groups.
Tiongson was president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2009 and was among the council of experts that took part in the National Artist Awards selection process that year.
Although Tiongson asserts the negative decision was consensual rather than unilateral, he admits to reservations about conferring the award on an actor who portrayed the gay stereotype in a manner that “equated gayness with abnormality and mindless frivolity.”
A leader of the LGBT (lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transsexuals) community gave contrary views. “We are thankful for Dolphy’s portrayals that have given color to the gay character. He has made it come to life, especially in ‘Markova.’ Sobrang proud kami that he did that film,” said Raffy Aquino, Ladlad Party List treasurer.
Aquino believes Dolphy succeeded in showcasing two seemingly contradictory gay realities: the happy disposition of LGBT people and the discrimination they constantly have to live with.
For Joey Baquiran, a member of the Young Critics’ Circle, Tiongson has a point. “Dolphy may have indeed portrayed them in a demeaning way like in earlier films ‘Facifica Falayfay, Fefita Fofonggay’ and other similar comic works.” However, he felt that his two most recent gay films more than make up for the inadequacies of his earlier works. “In both ‘Tatay Kong Nanay’ and ‘Markova,’ he was able to show the very human side of the bakla in Philippine society and how destructive heteronormative conditions are to homosexuals,” he said.
Opinion from media
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros said Dolphy deserves to be nominated National Artist but is not sure whether he should win. He wrote in one of his columns: “… Dolphy made a whole career out of playing gays, notably Facifica Falayfay, without offending the gay community by his portrayals.”
Aldrin Cardona of the Daily Tribune is more forthright in batting for Dolphy: “A comedian as National Artist? Why not? … He had played gay roles many times, a cheap approach if we are to view these classic films now, but his gay characters were as real as we are.” He thinks that Dolphy was honest with his craft and did it without pretensions.
Netizens speak out
Among netizens, gay and straight, most of the comments gathered for this article pay tribute to Dolphy’s gay characterizations.
George Dela Rama, 27, said: “I especially adore and applaud his performance as Waterina Markova. He did justice to the character. It inspired many to remain strong and live a beautiful life amid the trials and realities of this world.”
Neil Pedrosa, a 28-year old gay comedian, asserted he does not take offense at all. “I grew up watching Dolphy movies with my dad. I didn’t find the portrayals insulting.”
Another netizen, 23-year old Merck Magudadayao, has this to say: “He presented the human side of being gay, which, I think gay men can relate to.”
Centro Escolar University (CEU) Professor Chris Cortado believes Dolphy’s portrayal of gays is actually empowering. "The best proof is the fact that he was able to give justice to these roles considering he was straight."
Archie Padalhin, 29, agrees the actor’s performances are empowering “if taken in the context of the year that the portrayals were made, considering that he even did those roles at a time when the LGBT community didn’t even have voices in the media.”
A dissenting view is expressed by someone who identifies herself as Donna: “My gay friends want to be taken seriously and not made fun of.”
The ultimate award
By recent indications, Dolphy may, in the end, be conferred the title, after all. He has been officially nominated to the Award by the City of Manila; the screening process by the NCCA has resumed; and President Aquino has come out on record as saying Dolphy deserves the title. The wheels of the gods seem to be grinding faster for him now that he is dead.
Ultimately however, his former partner Alma Moreno is right: The award is useless to him now. But perhaps the more accurate thing to say is that he never actually needed it.
With one’s name carved out in the hearts and memories of millions of his countrymen, who needs any more trophies or titles or certificates?
Another netizen puts it succinctly: “Dolphy is more than a National Artist; he is a National Treasure.” –KG, GMA News
Talk of the web