By Abner Galino
THE much talked about documentary about a transgender Filipina who was murdered by an American serviceman in Olongapo City four years ago got another screening in Los Angeles early this month.
“Call her Ganda” is about murder victim Jennifer Laude, her mother Julita who pursued justice for her death, US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton (who was accused, tried and convicted for the killing), the lawyers who represented the victim and the transgender journalist who pursued the story.
The recent Los Angeles screening which was held October 6, was sponsored by the Sundance Documentary Film Program and the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC).
The film dealt with the themes of homophobia, colonialism and the arrogance of U.S. military forces abroad.
In 2014, then 26-year-old Laude, was found dead in a bathroom of a motel room. Her head was submerged in a toilet.
Laude was said to be sex worker who met Pemberton, then a 19-year-old marine soldier, in a disco.
Pemberton apparently snapped and killed Jennifer when he discovered that she was a transgender. The killing caused a political firestorm.
Three women were prominently featured in the film: Jennifer’s mother Julita, Meredith Talusan, a transgender investigative journalist and Atty. Virgie Suarez, the victim’s lawyer.
The film begins with Julita tearfully displaying her slain daughter’s bedroom. Then, the movie went on to show the tumult that followed after the story of her death hogged the headlines.
Another transgender activist (whose name I failed to recall while writing) was also featured prominently in the film.
The said activist was present in many protest actions and court hearings. She sees Jennifer’s death as a defining moment in the history of the Filipino transgender movement.
Hateful tweets against transgender people were also shown in the film apparently to demonstrate how ignorance continues to reinforce a culture of violence against gays, lesbians and transgenders.
Also, for many activists who joined the protests, the greater issue was the Philippine sovereignty, as the content of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) seems to violate it. The VFA allows the U.S. government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, except under special circumstances.
Although quite brief, there was a scene in the film where Pemberton’s mother told a journalist that her son has no bias toward transgender people because his sister was a lesbian.
A short history of the Philippines and its colonization by the US provided context to the film.
The election of President Rodrigo Duterte and his criticisms of the United States were also presented. Although, even Duterte’s supposed anti-US stance doesn’t seem to change the treatment being accorded to the US soldier.
Pemberton was found guilty of homicide for Laude’s slay on December 1, 2015 and was sentenced to serve a jail term of six to 10 years. He is serving his sentence in a detention facility inside the Philippine military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
The devotion and perseverance of the victim’s mother Julita, lawyer Suarez and journalist Talusan provided the movie with an emotional strength.
The film was directed by PJ Raval, produced by Kara-Magsanoc-Alikpala, Marty Syjuco and Lisa Valencia-Svensson.