More than-half-a- century ago, when most Filipinos only watched Hollywood movies and watching Tagalog films and reading comics were looked down, a small sector of the population (who didn’t cave in to the ridicule of the population at large) had religiously watched Tagalog movies.
Touched by the patriotism of this group, National Artist and Film Director Lamberto Avellana coined an endearing word to describe them: "Bakya Crowd." Bakya, a locally-manufactured wooden slipper widely used in the 1950s by the underprivileged (but not necessarily uneducated) Filipinos, was indeed very appropriate, for these moviegoers were mostly Bakya wearers.
As the years passed, this term has evolved and a new connotation and a stigma has
been attached to it, too. In the 1950s and early 1960s when someone was referred to
as "Bakya," that person had a very poor taste and less educated that he or she would watch a Tagalog movie. Social history tells us that in those years, only a handful of theaters in Manila (only three to be exact: Life, Center & Dalisay Theaters) showed Tagalog films. Most theaters in Manila were exhibiting Hollywood flicks exclusively. Every Filipino filmmaker was having a tough time trying to convince highly-educated, aristocratic-minded, colonial mentality-proned population to go and watch their very own compatriots' lives unfold on the silver screen.
The small nationalist group didn't mind even if most of the actors and actresses looked Caucasian (most performers during those times were Eurasian or Amerisian (mestizos and mestizas).
Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes
The scenario changed suddenly, when, in the mid-sixties, during the height of
Amalia Fuentes and Susan Roces' popularity, throngs of young people began
patronizing Tagalog movies, that within a span of five to seven years, more and more
theaters began exhibiting them. In the 1970s, the ratio of theaters showing Tagalog
and English movies was fifty-fifty.
Yet, in spite of this change, the term "Bakya Crowd" lingered, and again, its meaning had mutated like a nasty virus.
Exception to the Rule: Nora Aunor
When the so-called phenomenal superstar Nora Aunor entered the movie scene, the Filipino movies were revolutionized, so to speak, but only in terms of personalities. After more than seventy years of reigning, the popularity of mestizo and mestiza movie stars in Tagalog films began to decline. Suddenly, a petite, dark-complexioned girl from the Bicol region became the superstar of this Caucasoid territory. More young people (and of course the young once, as well) became movie fans. As the population became younger and younger, more young people joined the movies. In fact, when I was in university taking Mass Comm, several of my classmates were acting and singing in the movies: Peria Adea, Rod Dasco, Rex Dimavivas, Marsha de Rivera, Lou Soratorio, and others. During this time, if you were caught watching a Tagalog movie, you were no longer considered "Bakya". But, if you were a movie fan of a local superstar, well, that's another story. You will be branded as "Bakya."
I have always believed that the 1970’s were the worst of times and the best of times for Filipino films. Despite the drastic improvement of the writing in the komiks and the progressive upward movement of the films by L’enfant terrible film Director Armando de Guzman and newcomers Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Romy Suzara and Joey Gosiengfiao, we also have the other half who produced quickies like there were no more tomorrow: Artemio Marquez, Leody M. Diaz, Romy Villaflor, Ben Feleo and others. But, the most prominent among these quickie film directors was Artemio Marquez, who happened to direct mostly Nora Aunor films. The proliferation of Artemio Marquez’ sing-and-dance films was totally a waste of time. Clearly, all the films were made just to tickle Nora Aunor-Tirso Cruz-Manny de Leon fans. Hence, in our Speech and Drama classes, Perla Adea was teased a lot by yours truly and by my best buddy, Renato Malay (son of journalist Armando Malay).We teased her day-in and day-out until one day she couldn't take it anymore and she cried, really cried in the speech lab. She broke my heart. I apologized to her and never, ever teased her again until the end of that semester. Four years later, when we were already degree holders, we had an accidental reunion at Broadcast City. She was one of the guest actresses in my T.V. show Ulila. But that's another story...
So how on earth did such a symbolic, innocent word originally coined with such endearment, end as something insulting?
When the masses are hungry, entertain them
In the early sixties, during Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal’s term, the Philippine economy was booming. We were second in line to Japan's economic
prosperity. When Ferdinand Marcos' regime came, we began to lag. We lagged and lagged until we lost the race to all the ASEAN nations. Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Taiwan all became very prosperous, except us. Marcos' rule lasted for twenty-one years, and within this time frame, we lost our once upon-a-time high standard public school education. From almost 100% literacy rate, we went down to 83%; Most of the ones affected were the under-priveledged. They quit school because they could no longer afford to stay there. At a very tender age, they had to eke out a living to help the family survive. Most young people became maids and gardeners of the affluent Filipinos. Others became jeepney drivers, underpaid blue collar workers, sidewalk vendors, handy men, door- to-door salesmen. Child prostitution became rampant.
The Tagalog movies were there to help the poor escape from the harsh realities of their everyday existence. The komiks, the movies and religion became the opium of the people. Meanwhile, the filthy rich movie producers banked on the masses' Achilles heel. Despite the huge improvement in the quality of the Filipino films, some producers continued to produce projects that exploited rich people versus poor people stories, always making the rich evil, and the poor, saintly, and always triumphant in the end.
Having such an extremely inexpensive and escapist entertainment, a poor man can go where so ever he wishes - in his imagination.
The other half of the filmmakers were the ones who were guilty of these low quality escapist melodramas that came out year after year after year. They thought only of pleasing the fans of the current superstars. They didn't try hard enough to uplift the
mentality of the fans who were now refered to as the new "Bakya Crowd."
"Whatever the fans want to see, give it to them," quipped one multi- millionaire movie producer.
Such uncaring reasoning was the root cause of the deterioration of the Tagalog
Movies starting in the late 1980s and still continuing these days. The masses were never given the opportunity to appreciate worth-seeing, high-quality films. The pillars of the film industry (producers, directors, and writers) should reach out to the masses, and start believing that the audience of Tagalog movies are not stupid, and therefore they deserve better movies. If the filmmakers change, the audience will change with them. Artists are supposed to be pacesetters. They must lead. When these changes take place, the term "Bakya Crowd" will become extinct. •