Filipino Films and the Filipino Identity


August 10, 2021


Writers: Richardson Mojica, Ian Stephen Velez, and Ella Mae Militante
Researchers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy and Angelica Jane Evangelista
Editors: K Ballesteros, Azie Libanan, and Alvin Joseph Mapoy
Creatives: Krystle Mae Labio and Jacklyn Moral
Moderators: Ian Stephen Velez, Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo, Marc John Paul Agbuya and Ella Mae Militante
Documentation: Raven Gavino
Spaces Moderators: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Richardson Mojica, Azie Libanan, Kamille Huelgas and the rest of #UsapTayo Volunteers


I have been teaching film-related subjects for at least 10 years and I always give emphasis on Filipino films, their  rich history and tradition, brightest stars, superb production, and more. More often than not, students are  fascinated to learn, and are shocked by where we have gone from the 102 years of Philippine cinema since Don Jose Nepumuceno produced “Dalagang Bukid” with Honoracia “Atang” de la Rama-Hernandez as its lead actor. Every semester, as I teach film-related subjects, I still discover more things that also fascinate me. This is the first time that I will be looking at films from  a lens outside communication and media studies. 

Filipino Films 

Hornby (2006) defined movies as a series of moving pictures recorded with sound that tells a story shown at cinema. They are produced by recording images from the world with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or special effects. Image, story, and sound are the major elements combined to give context and meaning to the story being told. Common themes found in movies center on everyday experiences like love, hope, death, good, evil, violence, and peace Cloete (2017).

The history of Phlippine cinema has gone a long way and has its own share of ups and downs. It can be traced back to 1897 in Escolta after the Spanish-American war, the advent of the first Filipino produced and directed film, to the canned films brought by the Americans during their occupation of the Philippines. The 1950’s and early 60’s were considered the golden age of Philippine cinema due to the volume of films produced. The declaration of Martial Law in the 70’s sparked the production of socially-relevant films (Bautista, n.d.). The bomba era followed in the 80’s, succeeded by  the pito-pito films (7 days of production) which were commonly action and comedy films. At the start of the new millennium, indie films gained prominence along with the increased popularity of local pink films.  

Films and Mental Health

Our mental health and the films that we watch have always been connected in many ways. Aside from the commonly known idea that watching films can be a form of coping for some, films also play a role in therapy. According to Solomon (as cited by Mann, 2007) movie therapy, also called cinema therapy, is when we use films and movies for therapeutic purposes. Further, Solomon (n.d.) added that this kind of therapy is self-administered. Essentially, when we watch a movie that reflects our situation, it helps change the way we think, feel, and deal with the joys and pains of life (Hampton, 2018). Films can also be a powerful tool for healing and growth.  As we watch movies, we learn how they affect us. 

Filipinos are frequent movie watchers. On Netflix alone, Philippines ranked 4th on the most number of content available (Stoll, 2021). Known as one of the heaviest media consumers in the world, Statista Research Department (2021) reported that 96% of their Filipino respondents accessed films in cinema, TV, internet, and other media in 2019. 

In a study conducted by Sembrana, Cabantug, and De Guzman (2019), it was found that cinema therapy showed positive results on the cognitive and emotional development of Filipino female adolescents. The study showed that films helped participants realize “reel” and real life experiences. Cinema​​ therapy also provides the opportunity to gain a different perspective outside their personal experience and discover strengths during challenges. The same study showed that cinema therapy decreases viewers’ depressive symptoms. 

Filipino Self in Films 

In the 1950’s, the Philippines was the second largest producer of films in Asia, second only to Japan. Also, we were one of the countries with the highest volume of  imported film (Bautista, n.d.). Why are Filipinos so fond of film? 

Love Teams

One plausible reason would be our fascination with celebrities. Even in the early days of Philippine cinema, love teams were  a staple: Gloria Romero and Luis Gonzales, the late Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa, Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III (Guy and Pip), Vilma Santos and Bobot Mortiz, Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin, Angelu de Leon and Bobby Andrews, James Ried and Nadine Lustre, Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, Belle Mariano and Donnie Pangilinan and many others. 

In our July 30 #UsapTayo session, we discussed love teams as part of fandoms, and as part of our  coping mechanism. It has a positive psychological impact on people as it gives fans hope and optimism with a certain degree of escapism and avoidance. 

Filipinos are also culturally romantic. Karandashev (2015) explored the cultural perspectives on romantic love in different cultures including the Philippines’. Filipinos are shaped by culture to be romantic and loving individuals. Karandashev (2015) mentioned that ligaw and harana are two of the most distinct characteristics of our culture. At a very young age, we are  taught to believe in long lasting love (“forever” as how it is commonly said today). Our fascination with love teams we watch on films can be traced back to this trait. We believe in happy endings, that these stories can also happen in our lives, and maybe soon. The underlying storyline of these romantic films provide us with a glimpse of something that we hope  for which may or may not come true. 

Escapist Cinema 

Movies are one of the most effective ways of storytelling. It tells us stories far beyond what we can imagine. Stories from our community, another country, a fantasy, or even science fiction. It is limitless. 

Escapism is broadly defined in psychology as the “tendency to escape from the real world to the delight or security of a fantasy world” (APA, 2020).  In films, on the other hand, escapism entertainment refers to the mass production of films that remove viewers from  the limitations of reality, creating   a world of fiction (“medium”, 2020). 

Arguably, Filipino films are not all great. Some  films that receive  subpar reviews from film critics still produce profits. This may be considered part of escapist entertainment where Filipinos are heavily engaged.

Halfman and Reinecke (2019) suggested that high engagement in escapist entertainment is primarily because of stress. In  this case, films are resources for temporary problem-focused coping. Initially, researchers believe that this escapism entertainment is dysfunctional. But Halfman and Reinecke proved that the use of escapist entertainment meets the requirements of the stress situation and beneficial effects. Lazarus and Folkman’s transactional model of stress and coping (1984) as explained by Halfman and Reinecke (2019).

Lazarus and Folkman’s Transactional Model of Stress and Coping (1984)

When we watch films during stressful situations, it becomes our coping mechanism. Film watching, as an emotional coping response, helps us to manage our emotions or problems caused by stress. These short-term outcomes of film watching (or binge watching) relaxes us and improves our mood. According to Lazarus and Folkman, when this short-term outcomes of film watching becomes a habit, it becomes a long-term outcome that helps us improve our health, including our mental health leading to life satisfaction. 

Portrayals of Filipino Self 

Our history as a nation includes our history of colonization under  Spain, America, and the Japanese. This brings up the question of identity, and the Filipino self. 

In films, the influence of these colonizers are very evident. Americans left a lasting impression on our movies even up to today. From the storylines, characters, techniques, and much more, a trace of Hollywood can be seen (Kenny, n.d.). Filipinized versions of American films and characters were a hit in  local cinemas. Hollywood’s Schindler’s List (1993) is Filipino’s Swindler’s List (1994), Home Alone (1990) and Home Along Da Riles da Movie (1993); Bruce Lee has Ramon Zamora (Bruce Liit, 1978). 

Filipino films in general never lost its true identity, which stems from the rich and long history of Philippine theatre. Kenny (n.d.) compared the close connections of the current Filipino films to its theatrical ancestors which include the strong heroes, mestiza heroines, snobbish rich women, modern females, mestizo playboys, cruel and tyrannical Spanish plantation owners, victimized Filipino laborers, etc. 

Films and our Realities 

“Film allows and encourages us to process our own reality.”

– Katarina Schultz (2017)

We often question if these things we see in movies happen in real life. Even if the movie is fantasy or science fiction, we still question certain realities presented in the film. Film has the power to reveal things about a certain reality in our lives that we were not able to see ourselves (Schultz, 2017). Through films, we absorb scenes that later lead us to reflection and introspection. We sometimes cry after watching a film about family because we find ourselves in a similar situation. We’re outraged because we remember someone who tortured us after seeing the antagonist in a film. 

Everybody is familiar with this Filipino storyline: a rich man falls  in love with a poor barrio girl. Their parents oppose their love and send the guy abroad. The girl suffers at the hands of the man’s family. . She perseveres and thrives. Years pass and the girl amasses  a fortune. She takes her revenge on the family, and is the force of karmic retribution . But the girl will forgive them to make way for a happily ever after. 

This typical story has been a staple and a formula in the local silverscreen. It has been told many times in many ways and still becomes a hit. Why? Because this makes us cry, inspires us, angers us, and makes us believe in something. It reminds us of realities present in our lives, directly or indirectly, and helps us process  them. 

Portrayal and Influence of Mental Health on Films

As the film industry endeavors to improve, the responsibility it holds towards the audience also grows. The Psychological Association of the Philippines calls for responsible film and media communication on Mental Health Illness. Last February 2021, Mental Health advocates bellowed disapproval after the controversial poster released for the film Tililing, The said poster caught public attention because of its stigmatizing visual interpretation of mental health issues. Mental Health PH along with other Mental Health champions voiced  criticisms, and did not tolerate this misrepresentation (Magsambol, 2021)

The ideology of apparatus theory (Bielecki, 2007) holds that films are created to represent reality. Films depict  what happens in the actual world. This substantiates the claim that most people watch movies because they can relate to scenes depicted in films. That is when boundaries between real events and scenes on screen are confused by the audience. Although watching films is beneficial for emotional release, attentional diversion, relaxation, and its informative value, it is always accompanied by risk factors. Issues such as misrepresentation and misinformation are common concerns. Given that, these inaccuracies may lead to the formation of false beliefs that affect individual self-concept and perception towards others. Moreover, film, like other forms of media can be powerful tool to spread awareness and educate the public on different social issues including mental health (Russel, 2009) 

Film-based interventions have been regarded as a tool for adolescent mental health education although mixed reports have been found on its efficacy (Goodwin et al., 2021). Despite this, accurate depictions of mental disorders have been used for mental health education. The use of films in decreasing stigmatization of mental disorders can be attributed to a number of factors (Perciful, 2012).

Baumeister (1999), as cited by McLeod (2008) defined self-concept as the individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes, and who and what the self is. The belief about oneself fractures  when social issues are misrepresented, but this type of threat may be reduced if films manifest the right information. Additionally, continuous perpetuation of never-ending issues like stereotyping and prejudice towards marginalized and vulnerable sectors in films perpetuate discriminatory practices. 

McLeod (2008) mentioned that “A person’s self-image is affected by many factors, such as parental influences, friends, the media etc.” With the many factors that affect one’s self-image, media stands out. Films (as one form of media), influences our perception of self and how we build our self image. It changes one’s perception of self depending on his/ her exposure to the film (Kubrak, 2020). 

The suggestibility value of films also plays an important role in how people view others. The representation of late policemen in the crime scene, tattooed people are criminals, and noisy neighborhoods in local films pile up to those misconceptions of Filipinos. 

Cinema Therapy

Debbie Hampton, author of Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing Your Brain (2018) suggests how cinema therapy can help you with your anxiety and depression.  

  1. Movies encourage emotional release. Movies have the power of stirring up the emotions of a person. For example, when watching a film, you might find yourself crying over a death, laughing when someone makes a joke, or maybe getting jumpy when scenes are getting intense. It stirs and allows you to feel different feelings you do not experience in reality. Because movies’ ability to free up implicit emotions, it helps those suffering from depression find their release.
  2. Sad films can make you happier. The emotion conveyed by the movie might be in contrast with what the person actually feels when watching it, just like when tragic movies help people realize the value of the simplest things. A character who lost the love of his life might make you value more your partner. A family sunk down by poverty will make someone realize the worth of every penny. A person without confidence can make you feel better about yourself. It is heartbreaking indeed, but at least, it isn’t the real deal.
  3. Movies can help you make sense of real life. Movies are told from different points of view. By this, we get to look at it from different angles and create our own interpretations. This is how we acquire knowledge and make sense of the world because movies are not purely fictional. There are some of them that are close to realities, such as documentary and biographical films.
  4. Movies give you a mental break. The common reason why people love to watch films is that they take you from the unwanted reality. As people go through a lot these days, Netflix and some other movie platforms become immediate resolutions. When someone might be feeling depressed, one might resort to watching comedy films. Although it is a quick escape, it still counts as a mental break.
  5. Scary movies can help you calm anxiety. It might be a shock to you that sad films actually can make you feel good emotions, but it might shock you more than scary movies may, in fact, ease anxiety. It has been proven in a study conducted by Dr. Mathias Clasen about the opposing effect of scary movies on anxiety. It was explained that the reason behind it is because people put a psychological distance between film and reality—this boundary between the two shields viewers to be affected by the suspense in a thrilling movie.
  6. Movies bring relief – even if they stress you out at first.  As the movie takes you on a roller coaster ride, the stress level goes up and down as well. It is natural for someone to feel low at the beginning of the movie, get sweaty at the climax as the brain releases the stress hormone and feel elated as dopamine is released by the brain after the resolution.

The ride in each and every movie will always be different. Overall, movies have swung our emotions. It made us happy, excited, sad, and jolted. It has taken us to some places even our imaginations did not take us. And even after the curtains close, the impact will always be treasured for a lifetime. 


  1. What are your considerations before watching a film? 
  2. How do Filipino films help you cope with your mental health issues? 
  3. How do Filipino films influence the development of your self-concept?

Pre- Session Activity: 

Check out our Bingo card and put a mark on Filipino films that you have already seen. 

Post- Session Activity: 

Share your pre-pandemic movie buddies. Photos are accepted too! 


Hornby, A. (2006). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, UK

Cloete, A. (2017). Film as medium for meaning making: A practical theological reflection. DOI:10.4102/hts.v73i4.4753

Bautista, A. (n.d.). History of the Philippine Cinema.

Mann, D. (2007 February 21). Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health.

Hampton, D. (2018 November 24). Watching Movies Can Help Your Mental Health.

Stoll, J. (2021 February 17). Countries with most content available on Netflix worldwide as of January 2021.

Statista Research Department (2021 June 21). Cinema usage among consumers based in the Philippines in 2018.


Sembrana, P., Cabantug, N., De Guzman, R. (2019). Cinema Therapy as a Modeling Technique in Cognitive and Emotional Development in Educational Context of Depressed Filipino Female Adolescents. IAFOR The International Academic Forum.


APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2020).

“medium”. (2020, July 18). Escapist Cinema.

Halfmann, A., Reinecke, L. (2019 October). Binge-watching as case of escapist entertainment use. DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.24690.25288

Karandashev, V. (2015). A Cultural Perspective on Romantic Love. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 5(4).

Kenny, J. (n.d.). Tagalog Movies and Identity: Portrayals of the Filipino Self.

Schlutz, K. (2017 February 2). Screw escapism: The emotional resonance of film.

Magsambol, B (2021)  Mental health group recreates controversial ‘Tililing’ poster

Bielecki P. (2007). Rethinking of Baudry’s Apparatus Theory in Light of DVD Technology. Ohio University. Ohio. 

Russel, W. (2009). Teaching Social Issues with Film. Information Age Publishing. 

Goodwin, J., Mohammad, S., Dillon, C., Kilty, C., McCarthy, A., O’Brien, M., Philpott, L., (2021 May). The use of film-based interventions in adolescent mental health education: A systematic review.

Perciful, M., (2012). The Impact of Film on the Construction and Deconstruction of Mental Illness Stigmatization in Young Adults.

McLeod, S., (2008). Self Concept. 


Kubrak T. (2020 May 2). Impact of Films: Changes in Young People’s Attitudes after Watching a Movie. doi: 10.3390/bs10050086


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