A heart-breaker, eye-opener docu | Philstar.com

Bot Glorioso (The Philippine Star) – February 18, 2021 – 12:00am
Streaming on Vivamax is the 2018 feature documentary film called Call Her Ganda that gained recognitions and awards from such international filmfests as Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival and Outfest Los Angeles.

The PJ Raval-directed docu film is about 26-year-old Filipino trans woman Jennifer Laude and the events surrounding her when she was found dead in a motel room in Olongapo City in October 2014 with the prime suspect being US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. Early part of the film flashed photos of Jennifer’s tragic death inside the motel bathroom — seated on the floor with her head slumped in a toilet bowl. Pemberton was eventually convicted of killing Jennifer after finding out that she was transgender.

Viva Entertainment, with its exec June Rufino, invited select entertainment press in a virtual meeting, including The STAR, for the screening of the docu that presents facts of the case through interviews with Jennifer’s mother Julita and her lawyer Virginia “Virgie” Suarez, plus more information from investigative journalist Meredith Talusan who, like Jennifer, is a transgender woman.

Nanay Julita lovingly calls Jennifer as Ganda. She shows to the camera Ganda’s room still intact with several dresses hanging in one part of the bedroom wall to remind her of Jennifer.

Appearing in succeeding scenes are Nanay Julita, lawyer Virgie and Meredith who explain how Jennifer left a bar with Pemberton and went to a motel for sex. They also share how Pemberton left the hotel room alone with its door left ajar and how the hotel staff and Jennifer’s friend found her body in the bathroom.

What follows is a series of complications to put Pemberton on trial because of the “protection” Americans enjoy under the Visiting Forces Agreement. With this, it’s heartbreaking to learn that Filipinos seem to be so powerless even in their own country. One may also see clearly that the abuses result from inequality and colonial rule.

The film also bares how US soldiers then spent their leisure hours going to the bar and engaged the services of local sex workers. But after what happened to Jennifer, Meredith is seen interviewing a young sex worker waiting for “customers” but no one came because US servicemen were no longer allowed to go out at night when docked at the former Subic Base.

The docu also narrates the side of Jennifer’s German fiancé, Marc Sueselbeck. Flashed through his memory were his happy days with Jennifer. According to him, if it had not happened, he and Jennifer would have been preparing for their wedding day that had already been set. He, too, had already bought a wedding gown for her.

The crime spurred a lot of activists into action — rallying on the streets were members of the LGBTQ and women’s rights groups, with some of them anti-US imperialist activists. They essentially got the government to act, go after the suspect and hold him accountable.

In 2015, Pemberton was sentenced to a term of six to 12 years, which was later reduced to 10 years. He was granted absolute pardon by President Rodrigo Duterte last year, after a local Olongapo court ordered his early release.

Produced by Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Marty Syjuco and Lisa Valencia Svensson, Call Her Ganda had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and its international premiere at Hot Docs in 2018.

(In order to watch Call Her Ganda, visit www.vivamax.net or download vivamax app on Google Play Store, register and subscribe for P149 a month.)



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