What interest me after watching Sunday Beauty Queen is why the movie was titled as such, and why the plot of the movie pivoted on what the Hong Kong OFWs do during Sundays. I asked my friends after watching the film on what they think was the documentary’s objective.
One said that the movie tries to show the story of the OFW in Hong Kong, their struggles, their stories abroad and their stories back in the Philippines. It is no smooth sailing adventure working abroad. The movie showed the different problems encountered by OFWs in Hong Kong, and OFWs in general. There are harsh employers, there are kind employers, and there are employers that treat domestic helpers as a family. Stories were shared on how they were treated by their employers. Some employers give them proper treatment– decent sleeping quarters, eating with their employers; while others treat them far worse than animals– horrible sleeping areas, left-over food. We do know a little about the life and struggles of OFW until this documentary.
Another said that the movie simply wants to feature Hong Kong OFW’s weekly activity, Beauty Contest, and how it harnessed camaraderie amongst themselves, and how such activity helped keep their sanity intact. It’s unbearable to imagine one’s mental torture living away from their family, dealing with problems of their foster family, problems on how to survive with their daily lives, how they were there for each other, as one family, and on how someday after watching and counting several airplanes, the next plane would be their ride home.
Domestic Helpers are also torn with the life they have and the life they are sharing with their new found family. Two stories that struck us the most are the stories of MJ. Mr. Jack, a sick old man, and his family were very good to MJ, and MJ also saw them as a family. Mr. Jack is very supportive of MJ and her Sunday events. And it broke our heart when Mr. Jack died, it was Sunday when he died. Another story was of Cherrie Mae Bretana where he gave up (at the last minute) a good opportunity in Japan for her employer’s son. It simply shows how Filipinos sometimes give themselves selflessly even to people they don’t share the same blood with.
Another said it’s a call to action– rights for all domestic helpers in Hong Kong. There were many harsh laws and regulations described in the film. Among which are the 14-day mandatory placement after being terminated by the employer, optional live-out policy for domestic helpers, poor (to no) 8-hour working policy, and the lack of support of the embassies and government of both countries to domestic helpers and OFWs.
I agree with all that my friends said, but I felt something is missing. I can’t seem to find the connection of everything to one another, especially of the title Sunday Beauty Queen. I felt there are symbolisms or a deeper meaning with the title and with what the documentary tries to portray.
Then I remembered the scene of Mr. Leo during one of the Sunday practices with the Beauty Queen. He was narrating his experience when one time he was asked what was his job in Hong Kong. He narrated, ‘When people asks me what my job here in Hong Kong is, I would answer that I am a manager. Then people would stare at you from head to toe. Then I would show them my iPhone. Yes, I am a manager. Manager of my employer.’
I realized maybe that was the connection to everything. Sunday Beauty Queen struck a balance in portraying the struggles and challenges of Domestic Helpers and breaking the stigma attached to Domestic Helpers. Domestic Helpers are not prostitutes but are moral and decent workers. Domestic Helpers are not slaves but Queens.
I remember there is one interview in the documentary where one of the Hong Kong employers said, “Domestic Helpers are very important here in Hong Kong. I can barely imagine what will happen to us without them.”
And Sunday Beauty Queen reminds us of that. Sunday Beauty Contest reminds them of that. It is more than just a Beauty Pageant, an income generating pageant, an advocacy-driven activity, a camaraderie event– it is a weekly reminder that they are important. That after a week long of hard work there is that one day in a week that would make them feel like they rule the world, that they could strut in the runway with pride like real Queens of this world because they really are. Not only on Sundays but every day.
I hope this film pushes us to make effort to value and protect our Queens, our beloved Overseas Filipino Workers. (r)