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Marupok A+ gives unique spin on trans struggles

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FOCUSING on a transgender woman who falls into a trap in the world of online dating, the queer comedy-thriller Marupok A+ is set to shed light on how transphobia can manifest in modern times.

It follows Janzen Torres (played by EJ Jallorina), a transgender college student who matches with a handsome young man named Theo (played by Royce Cabrera) on a dating app. Though everything appears normal and headed towards romance, she later discovers that she is being catfished — in other words, lured into an online romantic relationship by someone using a fictitious online persona or fake identity — by the twisted ad director Beanie Landridos (played by Maris Racal).

In this film, which is based on true events, the character of Beanie gives a unique insight into the psyche of someone who hates transpeople and will actively undermine them, in this case by catfishing Janzen.

Director Quark Henares said at a July 4 press conference in Makati that doing right by the trans community was a conscious effort on his part.

“I’m a cis-het (straight heterosexual) privileged Filipino, so my lived experience is different,” he said, crediting various consultants for helping with the film’s accuracy. “The love scene, for example, was directed by Rod Singh. We also spoke with the real-life Janzen the whole time, from script to shoot.”

TIMELY LGBTQ+ DISCUSSIONSAs a trans woman herself, motivated by the increased awareness Filipinos have of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer plus) issues today, Ms. Jallorina said that Marupok A+ was a way to garner support.

“Even outside the community, there are people who want to tell our stories. Importante iyon kasi nagkakaroon kami ng work at hindi lang iilan lang (It’s important because we get to work and not just a few) who are LGBTQ+ performers and actors,” she said.

For Ms. Racal, who plays the antagonist, she had mixed feelings to giving a likeable voice to a terrible person.

“Of course, gusto namin magalit sila sa amin (we want people to get mad at our characters),” she said. “We’re grateful for the crowd at Cinemalaya in 2023 who gave good feedback on our performances.”

BALANCE OF THEMESWhile the film is a comedy-thriller, its goals and its message remain simple and reflective of harsh realities, according to Mr. Henares.

“My last movie was in 2015, so when I make one, it really means something,” he said. Reading the 2020 Twitter thread of the real Janzen that the movie was based on flipped a switch in his mind: “I think one of the things that drew me to the story was, bakit nila gagawin iyon (why would they do that)? That’s really what we tried to solve while writing the film.”

He credited the cast with pulling off such tricky material. “There was no question that it would be EJ playing the lead. I think, for Maris, known for wholesome roles, it was great to see her become evil personified.”

Mr. Cabrera’s role, meanwhile, entailed playing cute, and being caught in between the manipulator and the victim. It also gave rise to a growing fanbase among the gay and trans communities.

“I’m thankful for all the support. As an ally, ginagamit namin ang platform na ito para maihayag ng tama ang laban na meron kayo (we’re using this platform to rightly portray the community’s struggles),” he said.

A NEW AUDIENCEHaving filmed the movie in 2020, months after the real Janzen posted her viral Twitter thread, Marupok A+ now finds a large Filipino audience at last. It premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in the US in early 2023 and opened the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in August that year.

“It’s interesting to see how various audiences react to the film. It’s a difficult topic, but even those from other countries can understand the Philippine context and the online context,” said Mr. Henares.

Though four years have passed since the true events of the film took place, the realities that transgender Filipinos face “still remain pressing.”

“I think we have to be accountable for and vigilant of hate crimes. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.

On how the film deals with the pressure of depicting LGBTQ+ issues, Ms. Jallorina told the press that it is just one portrayal of many more up ahead.

“Ayaw namin dalhin ang buong community kasi hindi lang isa ang dapat nagbubuhat. Ang laban ay dapat buong community pa rin (We’re not supposed to represent the whole community because we shouldn’t be the sole bearer of that weight. The fight belongs to all of us).”

Marupok A+ will premiere exclusively in Ayala Malls Cinemas on July 10. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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