The one and only Nora Aunor
Aren’t we all proud of Nora Aunor? Winning the best-actress prize in the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong at this late stage of her career is a grand achievement. But isn’t it sad that the Associated Press reported that the Brillante Mendoza-directed movie “performed poorly in Philippine cinemas,” meaning it couldn’t compete with the likes of “Skyfall” and other Hollywood pap? Doesn’t it bring to mind that saying about the prophet not being honored in his own country?
Now that Nora has been recognized internationally, can we love her once again and forget that she fled to California in a fit of pique those many years ago? Didn’t many of us wonder what had become of her until she surfaced last year and proudly told an interviewer that she had to do her own laundry while living in the United States? Didn’t we commiserate with her then, tsk-tsking about the low living standards in the supposedly great US of A, thankful that in the Philippines, even poor people have lavanderas? Wasn’t it sad to think that our best songstress and most famous actress engaged in such chores even if she surely used a washing machine, like all the poor Americans do? Did she mind the drudgery, or was it okay with her because she may be, at heart, a frugal soul? After all, we fans know that Nora sprang from humble beginnings in Bicol and even worked selling water to passengers on the train from Albay to Manila and back.
Aren’t we now thrilled by her triumph, especially after all the vicissitudes that include broken marriages, much-touted motherhood, exile in America, nasty rumors about a lesbian relationship, the misfortune of losing her angelic voice, then that brush with the law in California when she was nabbed transporting a banned substance? We all breathed a sign of relief when, after that California drug bust, she wasn’t locked up in some brutish Oakland jail but only had to do community service. Didn’t that leave us wondering if she’d had to clean public toilets, sweep slum alleys, or maybe sort garbage from dumpsters for recycling?
And what about those rumors that she’d gone to Japan to have her face fixed and her skin bleached so she’d look glamorous? Did anyone wonder why she couldn’t have had it done by our own perfectly competent plastic surgeons? Or was she wise not to do it in Manila (if indeed she’d had it done) because society at home is one big public address system of yapping backbiters and libelers of all stripes?
We migrant Pinoys are excited to see her film in which she had to go native in the South, play a downtrodden role, and make way for the likes of mestiza sexpot Ms Poe (who goes by the quaint name “Lovi” and once visited her former boyfriend jailed in Hong Kong for transporting drugs). Didn’t we remember Nora’s past films in which she was wonderfully believable in the roles she tackled? Didn’t we marvel at the fact that here was a truly Pinay actress who wasn’t the offspring of a Western father and a local mother, and who had kayumanggi skin and ordinary features? Wasn’t it refreshing not to have to watch pale-skinned, long-nosed, wide-eyed women monopolizing top roles while promoting that perverse mindset about mestizas being more desirable because they looked like cookie-cutter-type Hollywood starlets?
And didn’t Nora’s freshness impress us, not just with her thespian skills but also with that vibrant voice that warmed the hearts of folks living in huts and condos in Manila and in servants’ cubicles in employers’ homes from Saudi to Singapore?
We are now left wondering if Nora will decide to head back to California or if she’ll decide to stay on and help lift our film industry out of its slump. After all, isn’t there some truth in that saying, “You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl”?
Isabel T. Escoda is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.
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