If there’s anything that’s true about Marian Rivera, it’s that she doesn’t care what we all think: she presents to us what she is, which is probably the closest to a private self we’ve been treated to within the public space that is local popular TV and movie culture.
And when I speak of Marian’s private self, I mean the one that we don’t usually see of our celebrities, I mean that which is usually deemed unworthy of being made public. But Marian doesn’t seem to care that she doesn’t sound as classy or doesn’t move with as much finesse as the usual female star.
But maybe this is telling as well: Marian ain’t the usual run-of-the-mill female star that we see on local TV, and while she isn’t what we expect, I daresay that she’s exactly what we’ve needed all this time. And no, this is not the case of a diamond in the rough – that would mean having to smoothen it out and make it more acceptable. Marian, in fact, for all the negative publicity about her, need not change anything because she’s already the image that’s important for our times, and especially for women who consume popular culture.
If you haven’t been paying attention, i.e., if you have your TV on cable more than on the local channels, you wouldn’t know of Marian’s rise to fame, nor would you care for it. But it is, by far, one of the most interesting iconographies of a female star in recent years. Case in point: Marian had already played mother roles in soaps before bagging the title role in what would be her big break: Marimar.
The latter’s original was one of the bigger hits of the 90s, a Mexican soap opera dubbed in Filipino that took over our lives unexpectedly, the one that would create what we now know to be primetime television filled with soap operas, telefantasyas, fantaseryes and a random Koreanovela dubbed in Filipino. The decision to do a Filipino remake of Marimar in 2007 would come on the heels of a slew of successful telefantasyas for GMA 7, all starring then prized possession Angel Locsin – she of Mulawin, Majika, Darna fame. The announcement that an unknown Marian would take on such an iconic role as Marimar, in the midst of Angel leaving the network, meant a lot of evil talk that could break anyone. We didn’t know Marian from Eve and we were enamoured by Angel for sure after all those years of watching her become a star.
And then we saw Marian play Marimar. They also released her audition tape, proving that among other more known female stars, she did have this one in the bag.
The chemistry between Marian and her leading man Dingdong on Marimar was unmistakable, at the same time that it was expected. They were to play lovers who are perennially separated by circumstances beyond their control after all, and the desire had to be palpable onscreen. It didn’t help that Dingdong was out to prove himself a better and more mature actor in this soap, while Marian needed to prove that she was worth all the press.
Soon enough, news of a brewing romance surfaced about Marian and Dingdong, and everyone wanted to take a stab at the former, seeing as it’s always easier to blame the girl, yes? And we are all suckers for long romances, such as that between Dingdong and Karylle, a love that we saw happen on TV too.
Suddenly, Marian was being compared to Karylle, the latter being the talented singer and lithe dancer, an Ateneo de Manila graduate, a member of showbiz royalty, quiet and conservative despite the more daring outfits. Marian was her anti-thesis, and this became more obvious as we began to hear more of her literally – the tone of her voice is farthest from being classy, her words are always in Filipino which always means it sounds braver, if not possibly more easily offensive. Soon enough, Karylle would leave Dingdong as well as the network that was home to their romance; soon enough she was pointing a finger at Marian as the reason for the break-up, even fueling some tsismis on the real conditions of the Marian-Dingdong love team.
Marian of course would lash back, albeit with some tears, but clearly ready to fight it out using the strong voice that isn’t screaming, in Filipino that is slicing, a confrontational taking-to-task of another celebrity, the kind that we rarely see on TV. The kind that is just wonderful to finally see on TV. She’s right, she wouldn’t just smile mysteriously when asked any intriguing question on nationwide television; she would be the kind of girl who would give a straight answer, even when it is difficult to do so.
But we were ready to be offended by Marian, insistent as we all are that she must have broken her leading man’s long-term relationship. She became the girl we love to hate, and we began to make fun of her diction, as stories abound about how this has made it more difficult for her TV commercials to be written out. People uploaded videos of her alleged “real” character, where she is shown screaming at some fan, out of context of course. We became unforgiving of Marian’s English skills, even when she rarely spoke in English, and we would only hear much of it on TV and radio ads, even when a majority of Pinays must surely speak this way.
We just wanted to point a finger at this girl that we thought was unacceptable based on so many other things that were about discrimination, and yes we did this even as Dingdong himself absolved her of any sin, and in fact fell in love with her. Marian was who we made her out to be, and she barely had a choice.
But all these perceptions of Marian, wrong and judgmental as they were, seemed to be perfect for the kinds of roles she would do after her new-found Marimar fame. On TV, it was Proserfina in Ang Babaeng Hinugot sa Aking Tadyang and later on the title role of Dyesebel; in the movies it would be the loud-mouth kikay Courtney in Desperadas and the hard-up go-getter Grace in My Best Friend’s Girlfriend.
Soon enough, Marian and Dingdong would admit to a relationship, and not long after, she would get to portray more sentimental roles versus ultra-strong ones. What was special about her portrayal of Darna was that her Narda (the normal girl version of the super heroine) was less suspicious of the world and showed a genuine kindness.
In the recently concluded remake of Koreanovela Endless Love Marian played Jenny, again a role that’s calmer than most other roles she’s played. In the movies, Marian’s Joy Mejares in One True Love was effective as the wife who was forgotten by her husband because of amnesia, and who dealt with it through a quiet strength.
But of course the stronger, more aggressive characters are what we expect of Marian, and what’s infinitely interesting and unique about her is that she doesn’t mind making a fool of herself, or being the reason for some comedy. In You To Me Are Everything, she plays Iska, the probinsyana who takes a pet piglet with her to some new-found wealth, and who transforms into Cheska, the more acceptable version of herself.
This last role is two-fold and deals with the real versus the unreal, the old versus the new, the ill-bred probinsyana versus the proper rich city girl, and would seem to be closest to the change that we expect to see in Marian herself. In her case though, the real private self seems to have already won.
Because we’ve come to expect our artistas to act a certain way, especially for the women whose images are reconfigured to fit a particular conservatism, regardless of sexy pictorials and kissing scenes. But Marian seems to have escaped this kind of image management, and what has been pushed to the fore is this private self of hers that can only be a surprise to us. Between her malutong na Filipino and her strong tone, it’s difficult not to be jarred; between her magaslaw movements and shamelessly malandi dancing, it’s no surprise that we might be offended.
At the same time, the other side of this coin is that these images could also be liberating: if Marian can be this Pinay that we don’t expect on nationwide television, if she’s the Pinay who might offend the more conservative among us but who actually doesn’t do any wrong, if she’s the Pinay who speaks her mind and maybe screams it sometimes, then maybe every Pinay can learn from such an image, too, if not want to be it.
The more outspoken, liberated, loud(er) Pinays of the world, unite!
Should be the (un)mellow us, really. Because if there’s anything that Marian has taught us it’s that we could use a little less shame and a lot more realness, a little less insecurity and a whole lot more confidence – yes, especially in the face of a society that judges women with standards based on what’s conservative and proper. Because if there’s anything that we know about women at this point, it’s that stereotypes can still kill them, literally and figuratively, as woman power can easily be broken by the slightest hint of kabastusan, the tiniest bit of oppressive conditions. Words can still cripple us, and we know it to be true because it’s what has been thrown at Marian with the hope that she may be crippled.
That she isn’t at all crippled by mean talk is a wonderful thing isn’t it; that she can actually ignore it is absolutely inspiring. Add to this an amount of consistency: she hasn’t been made to go to etiquette or speech school, if her recent interviews and TV commercials are any indication, and there is no hint of her changing into the kind of girl that we have too much of on TV. The ones who are unreal, almost impossibly innocent and virgin-like? Marian ain’t one of them, thank goodness.
Because she just might be the one girl to sell brandy and beer as if she’d actually drink it. The one girl who sells telephone load in a tongue-in-cheek advertisement: she is washed to shore after a sea accident, and she swims into the waters not to save the faceless man in the sea, but to get her phone card so she may call her loved ones. She does her magaslaw dancing and has a couple of dance CDs under her belt; she seems to be on her way to becoming the next Maricel Soriano – maybe even a more powerful version of the latter.
She’s the one girl who sells independence in many ways: via billboards and tarpaulins for a property development corporation, going from being student to working girl, from glamour girl to party girl, across the cities that we inhabit in this country. Marian is also the one girl who rides a fancy scooter for girls, in an ad that talks about woman power and driving to one’s dreams.
And most importantly, Marian lives independence even as she is herself. Because really, at this point in Pinoy television and movie culture, she is a thumb that sticks out for all the things that we aren’t allowed to see a lot of, that we aren’t told to live for real. Marian’s independence is borne of an insistence on being herself – all good, bad and ugly of it, as per the world’s perceptions. This is her freedom. It would do us all good to see it as our liberation.
*This was published in GMA News Online, 9 November 2010.