- LORILLEE PARAS
Poetic short film “Not Your Erotic” confronts the fetishization and sexualization of Filipino women
“Not Your Erotic,” a 2021 poetic short film written by Jo Bulaong (they/them) and directed by Gelli Pascual (she/her), presents an all-too-common reality of racial and ethnic discrimination toward Filipinas and other women of color.
“Once upon a time, I went on a Tinder date, and the guy said, ‘I’ve never been with your kind before’/He ate with his mouth open and called me exotic four times more/He said he loved ‘Asians’ and had yellow fever/I almost went to the chef to go find a meat cleaver.”
Society’s fetishization, sexualization, and objectification of women, particularly in media, have created false beauty standards that impact women’s mental health and can lead to low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, and body dysmorphia.
“The film was a reflection of this macrocosm of systems that continue to oppress BIPOC folks like me today. It’s connected to this larger system that we need to look at,” Bulaong said.
“Exotic is a word that should be buried in the ground/It represents conquering other countries and leaving my people to drown/It’s years of oppression and fetishization/Raping and taking women of my nation/Exotic is a label given to wildflowers that must be tamed/It’s given to people whose cultures have been erased and maimed/My identity doesn’t need to fit your reality, I am not your erotic, do not call me exotic.”
Pascual and Bulaong made “Not Your Erotic” within one week after endless phone calls, and a 10-hour table read rehearsing the delivery and tone to create compelling emotions. A letter to society, the visual story calls for a more just world where women’s agency and choices are respected, and their bodies are free from monopolization and exploitation.
“I think the first step to dreaming and building that better world is first accountability. Accountability for people who are causing harm, accountability for people who are perpetuating these systems of harm, even in realms like the dating realm,” Bulaong said.
Pascual and Bulaong hope that viewers see Filipinas for who they are and continue to be: strong, intellectual, passionate, loving, and resilient.
“Tell me that my brown skin was gifted from my ancestors when they loved free, and the inferno island sun was their protector/Tell me that my luminescent radiance is so bright that it stuns and that the truth that I speak knocks the air from your lungs/Tell me that our bones were made to shield our divine intentions and that these dreams of equality are real, and not false deceptions/Tell me that our muscles were made to pull us closer to one another and that we’re more alike than different if we would just look past color.”
As storytellers, Bulaong and Pascual have embraced their authentic selves and paved their own unique paths in filmmaking and screenwriting.
“I always like playing around with scenes in my head. When I dream, I dream in scenes. I think that’s what I really love about narratives because you can create whatever world you want,” Pascual said.
Pascual works full-time as a writer, producer, and director at Hidden Temple Media Production, a multi-faceted production company based in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. She always had a personal fire that guided her throughout her life and a work ethic molded by her upbringing in the Philippines, hopping on jeepneys and selling goods to earn money.
“Growing up in the Philippines, being in the streets has really helped me solidify my values. There’s that gratefulness that things are always going to get better. If I could survive then, I can survive now,” Pascual said.
Inspired by the work of Jordan Peele, Chloé Zhao, Issa Rae, and Ava DuVernay, Pascual aims to create authentic and powerful stories that move people. She values the genuine connection and collaboration between actors and crew members and lives with the mantra that feeding her soul through storytelling welcomes her into spaces and experiences she never imagined could be a reality.
Bulaong has been reading and writing stories since childhood. One of the inspirations behind their love for writing is their dad, a hopeless romantic who, while working overseas, would send poems to his wife.
“From the immigrant child experience of not seeing our stories being told in widespread media, I wanted to communicate the actual expansiveness of our own stories and lives,” Bulaong said. “I think that planted a seed of understanding that there are other ways to express ourselves.”
Bulaong is not only a poet and screenwriter but holds hand poke tattoo ceremonies that integrate Reiki, a breathwork of meditation and ancestral practices. The hand poke tattoo ceremonies have brought Bulaong closer to their identity as Filipino/a/x. For them, ancestral tattooing is a form of storytelling and a practice of reclaiming one’s place in a society ruled by unjust systems.
“We are using our bodies and our voices that oppressive systems cannot take away from us,” they said.