With September stepping in, the Christmas season in the Philippines has officially begun. But just before you happily heave out that dusty Christmas tree from the bodega (if you already have, no judgment here), maybe you could hold off the Christmas mood just for the length of a special full-length movie.
Set on another all-important Filipino holiday – which is code for "the family must all get together, no excuses" – the film is the much talked about "Easter Sunday" starring global stand-up comic Jo Koy. Proudly making the rounds of US cinemas in early August, the movie is touted as the first Filipino-centered movie produced by a trio of major Hollywood studios. Read Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures and Steven Speilberg's Ambient Partners.
A dream come true for Jo Koy, Easter Sunday went head-to-head with Disney's "Lightyear," Brad Pitt's "Bullet Train," and the Minion's "Rise of Gru" at the US box office.
"This is the first time that an all-Asian cast with a Filipino lead is produced by a major Hollywood studio," Jo Koy triumphantly announced this week at a media conference preceding Easter Sunday's Philippine premiere.
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"It's a dream come true," he continued. "I did not want to come back to the Motherland without something like this to present. This was my goal since the beginning of my stand-up career."
Recalling the struggles of his 33-year career as a half-white, half-Filipino stand-up comic, who once played small Las Vegas cafes before selling out arenas around the world, what a "pasalubong" Jo Koy has given his fellow Filipinos, indeed.
"There were times I wanted to quit. Thank God I didn't," he continued to tremendous applause and cheers from the crowd at S Maison's Director's Club.
"My mom went to the States in 1969 at the height of racism, and it took 53 years for her to finally see family that looks like her [in the movies.]"
While Easter Sunday had mixed reviews stateside, any Filipino who watches it anywhere in the world will know – or better yet – feel one thing for sure. That great love made Easter Sunday. For no matter how campy the movie may seem, with the riotous, bickering, eating, drinking and laughing Valencia family in focus, that Filipino intrinsic — that ingrained love for family — undeniably shines through in the light-hearted plot.
Thanking Spielberg – the Hollywood legend, who, after being bowled over by Jo Koy in Netflix's "Coming Off Hot," greenlighted his pitch on the first try – the famous balikbayan shared, "Everything I wanted, he gave me. He really had my back and my best interest.
That single leap of faith of the man behind "E.T," "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List," to name a few, likewise allowed Jo Koy's love for the Filipino talent, besides promoting its culture, to make a dent in Hollywood.
Casting Filipinos for all the main leads, Jo Koy spotlighted Filipino artists who, like him, haven't given up the dream of breaking through global entertainment like Eva Nobleada (Broadway's "Hadestown") and Eugene Cordero (Netflix's "The Good Place"). He also allowed American movie veterans Tia Carrere and Lou Diamond Philips, after decades of making movies, to play the role of the Filipino that they are in a Hollywood production.
"It was a cry fest when all of this finally happened. I mean Tia and Lou, they had to be in this movie. And thank God for them because they went through the trenches for Filipino-American artists like me," Jo Koy expressed.
The newly-minted Hollywood lead is very hopeful that Easter Sunday will serve as that opening for Filipino talents to go as far as they should.
"What's special about this movie is that it has opened doors for everyone. Things are changing now. Back in the day, if you were a Filipino or if you were Asian, they would lump you all in a group. That's how racist Hollywood was.
"Now, the goal is to provide more opportunities for Filipinos, to get them work, to keep them open for everybody else and help everybody out."
With that – with all that love that has stayed with Jo Koy for his Filipino roots and his fellow dreamers despite the odds – it's only but right to put Christmas on hold just for 90 minutes.
It is 90 minutes that you will surely enjoy what with Easter Sunday's efforts to put in all the Hollywood elements in the movie, including a high-powered car chase and a very relatable, albeit sometimes exaggerated, characterization of moms, titos and titas. You may come out of the cinema just wanting a little more out of the story besides the typical scenarios the movie presented in supposedly telling the Filipino's story. Perhaps if one of the two screenwriters at the very least had Jo Koy's Filipino roots, a truly closer look at Filipinos could have drawn more laughs and tugged more at the heartstrings. Maybe they could have given Tia Carrere a more substantial role than a bickering tita after waiting so long to portray a Filipina in Hollywood – possibly the elder sister to Jo Koy's mom and Tita Teresa who is always the family's calm and grounded voice of wisdom. But all in all, Easter Sunday is a must-watch for highlighting the importance of family that only Filipinos can muster, as well as to celebrate the well-deserved success of our kababayan Jo Koy.
As a Filipina American journalist, musician and author from San Francisco, Rocky Rivera wrote in her movie review, "We're striving toward progress, not perfection." And what unparalleled progress Jo Koy has taken us all in Easter Sunday.