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Black Eyed Pea Apl.de.Ap and director Patricio Ginelsa's latest Tagalog video "Bebot" gets the cold shoulder from its label and MTV.
Booty shorts. Slinky halters. Flashy rides. Break dancin’. DJs scratchin.’ And an emcee rappin’ about hot chicks to some fine hip hop ‘til you don’t stop beats. Normally, it’s a fool-proof formula for earning heavy rotation on MTV. That is, until the video’s main posse rolls up in Jeepney (a colorful bus popular in the Philippines) instead of Benz and the only graffiti that flashes the screen is “I love the Philippines.” And well, there’s just a whole lot of Filipino faces in the crowd and OMG, they’re not speaking English, are they? Suddenly, you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore and this isn’t your average greased up girls and bling bling rap video.
The video is the Black Eyed Peas’ latest project, “Bebot: Generation Two.” And it’s one of two videos for Philippine born rapper Apl.de.Ap’s Tagalog dance track “Bebot” [“Hot Chick”], off the 2005 multi-platinum album Monkey Business. “Inspired by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thing,” “Bebot: Generation Two” begins with Apl.de.Ap being picked up by his Peas bandmates for a night of tasty barbeques and hot house parties. The only problem is that Apl’s mom forces him to take along his little sister, American Idol finalist Jasmine Trias. “I wanted to portray APL not just as your big superstar, but as your big brother,” said “Bebot” director Patricio Ginelsa. “I call him Kuya [big brother in Tagalog] Aps.”
“Generation Two’s” counterpart, “Bebot: Generation One” pays homage to parties in 1930s Little Manila. The video follows Apl.de.Ap, an asparagus farmer, as he leaves the toil of the fields for a night of diversion at the Filipino Rizal Social Club. Inside the club, well-dressed Filipino men in snazzy suits swing dance with a diverse crowd of beautiful women in cocktail dresses and pearls while other men gamble at a rowdy taxi dance hall next door. “In a sense, nothing has really changed, everyone’s still trying to, after their 9-5 gigs, put on their best clothes and meet ladies,” remarks Ginelsa. Like “Generation Two,” “Generation One” also brings in some familiar Filipino artists such as Next Phaze, the Speaks, as well as DJs E-man and Icy Ice.
Independently funded, both videos mark “Bebot” director Ginelsa and rapper Apl’s attempt to push Filipino culture and music out from under the rug and into the mainstream.
Unfortunately, both videos are currently confined to Internet play, at least in the United States. Ginelsa, with the blessing of the Peas, released “Generation One and Two” on August 4th on YouTube—an internet haven for homegrown and indie videos. Since then, the videos have only been requested by MTV Canada and MTV CHI, according to Ginelsa. In fact, although the Black Eyed Peas website boasts of a MTV news exclusive about “Bebot,” watching the actual news clip reveals that the presentation was specifically an MTV CHI exclusive – even if American VJ Sway delivered the news.
While American MTV usually welcomes projects from the Grammy winning Peas, with TRL premieres and guest appearances —think the massive airplay (and sometimes overplay) for hits like “My Humps” and “Don’t Phunk with my Heart”—, they haven’t given a single shout out to either of the “Bebot” videos. American MTV audiences might be used to seeing the occasional Latin music video, but those videos tend to be predominantly in English a la Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca” or Enrique Iglesia’s “Bailamos.”
So what happens when the video, though mainstream in motif, has completely non-English lyrics, and a predominantly Asian cast? Is America ready?
America wasn’t ready when Ginelsa and the Peas released “The APL song” video in 2003. ”The APL song” (Elephunk, 2003) is Apl.de.Ap’s Filipino love ballad and its video focuses on the plight of an elderly Filipino War veteran. Dante Basco and Joy Bisco, whom Ginelsa met while producing the Filipino American flick The Debut, acted in the video alongside Chad Hugo (The Neptunes).
Although “The APL song” was funded and distributed by the label unlike “Bebot,” it still got very little mainstream exposure. The label only released the video in Asia, where the Peas were touring. In America, Ginelsa’s independent campaign to get the video on TRL earned “The APL song” a few precious seconds on MTV, but that was pretty much it. “Vanessa Minnillo gave us props in front of MTV, so for three or four seconds, we were on national TV. And what people don’t know is that the following week when the Black Eyed Peas were guests on TRL, they showed ten seconds of the video.” In the end however, Ginelsa admits, “the video never got any American airplay except for independent channels and online. It became one of the most viewed videos online, but it never got any play on MTV or VH1 or BET.”
And three years later, history appears to be repeating itself. Interscope, the Peas label, still doesn’t think America or MTV for that matter is ready for Filipino music videos. So even though “Bebot”’s videos are undoubtedly more mainstream than the “APL song”’s video, the label has refused to front any money towards the creation or promotion of “Bebot.”
“What does MTV-friendly mean?” questions Ginelsa. “Christina Aguilera has her videos that are set in the 1930’s. Is it because of all the social commentary in Generation One that gets people all scared? But all the best hip hop videos you remember from Wu Tang Clan to Public Enemy always had social commentary. That was always the root of hip hop. Is it because it’s Filipino?”
However, it’s hard to say that “Bebot”’s absence from mainstream is solely racial. Yes, it’s unusual to see Filipinos plastered on U.S. T.V. screens, but even Ginelsa admits, “It’s really a market thing.” He explains, “Right now, our community has never been established as a market that can make a lot of money. It’s a game of people’s agendas and right now the agenda is Fergie.” Fergie, whom Ginelsa calls “the eye candy of the Peas,” has a new album, which is leading the Billboard top 100 charts. And let’s face it, “Bebot”’s album Monkey Business is already a year old.
With the Black Eyed Peas busy on tour, Fergie pushing a solo project, and their label turning a cold shoulder, Ginelsa is almost single handedly promoting the “Bebot” videos. Grassroots style, he began an online campaign to get the videos on VH1. Ginelsa has also screened the projects at various festivals and club events, marketing the projects mainly to “the core” or rather the Filipino and Asian American community, before reaching out to the mainstream. “The thing is for me to get as many companies asking the label about it so hopefully they understand that there’s an audience for this,” Ginelsa said.
“In reality, I’m not even supposed to be doing any of this pushing stuff, but I want to make sure that the video has a life outside of YouTube because you have to watch it the way it was created. You watch it on YouTube and it’s crappy resolution or it’s off sync,” Ginelsa said. “This video has to air on TV. I think it’s time that people see it for what it is, and see our culture.”
Is it a realistic request though? Ginelsa believes that the video boasts universal stories, even with its Filipino cultural focus. “No one who watches Boyz in Hood goes in there saying, ‘I have to be black to watch that,’” he told me. But as much the director would like to see the video on the small screen and as much as he has spent the last couple of weeks worrying about the video’s reception, he is still sensible in his expectations of the label and mainstream media. He admitted, “I knew already that I was going uphill because if you don’t have the label’s backing, there’s no way they’re going to push it.”
And Ginelsa knew this from the moment he fought to make the project.
One year ago, the Black Eyed Peas’ label planned to make a video for “Bebot” using Ginelsa’s original treatment— a socially conscious video that reflected on 1930s Little Manila in Stockton, California. They even offered him a small budget. However, just a few days before the film shoot, the project didn’t receive the greenlight necessary to continue. “Because people had other ideas of what to do with the video, we got shut down to the point where they told me, ‘Oh we’ll get back to you,’ but no one got back to me,” Ginelsa said.
Someone else had offered a more mainstream treatment for the “Bebot” project—presumably with more skin and more booty shaking. “Sex sells,” as Ginelsa bluntly admits. “What’s the main goal with a music video? It’s to the sell records.” So the label chose the more marketable version over Ginelsa’s. However, this version fell through as well.
When Ginelsa realized that that video didn’t go through, it became his obsession to snatch the project back. “I’d rather be responsible and do this project my way than have someone else do it a more exploitive way,” he explained. “I don’t care if I take the burden of doing it because I know what I’m getting myself into.”
At this point however, the label had lost interest not only in Ginelsa’s original treatment, but in the entire “Bebot” project. A determined Ginelsa still urged the label to reconsider letting him direct the project. He struck a compromise between his idea of a historical video and their request for a more mainstream treatment in hopes of convincing them. “Basically I told them I was going to do both versions of the video for this certain amount and they were like “Really?’ and they didn’t have to pay anything. I told them I was going to get the sponsorships to pay for it. I hustled it. I played the game.”
One year after the 2005 debut of the Peas’ album Monkey Business and the original shooting date for “Bebot,” Ginelsa finally completed the videos under the restraints of a small budget and band requirements.
Originally, Ginelsa envisioned a much more socially provocative video for “Generation One.” Little Manila in1930’s Stockton was a site of anti-miscegenation and anti-immigration laws and the director wanted to capture this oppression with images of cops swarming and shutting down the Filipino dance party. However, come shooting time, Ginelsa had to scale down his plans to an opening shot of a sign that reads “Positively No Filipinos allowed,” and a pair, rather than a swarm, of cops infiltrating the party. He stressed that he had to keep some remnants of this repressive reality in the video. ”I wanted to establish what the mentality was like back then socially,” said Ginelsa. “Even though you’re in this space where Filipinos are accepted, this is their private place, there’s still some sort of outside influence that tried to keep them at check.”
“It’s common for music videos to always talk about the 1930’s and the style, but I always thought that was just an excuse for Usher to put on the best clothes that he can. I like to do that too, but also give some sort of historical structure to it that people don’t necessarily know about it,” Ginelsa said. “And even though it’s not historically accurate, as long as it gets at least one person interested in trying to learn more about it, then I did my job. I mean that’s where the whole social responsibility of my filmmaking comes in.”
Ginelsa also found his creative freedoms restricted by the Peas’ request for a more mainstream treatment for “Generation Two.” Although Ginelsa knew he had to follow the band’s request for hot cars and hot girls, he made sure that there was no alcohol in the video. In fact, his actors hold chicken adobo and presumably soda in plastic cups in their hands rather than flutes of cristal. He also told the girls to dress up like they normally would to go to a house party. “Bebot” might mean “hot chick” in Tagalog, but the director wanted the girls to be more than just “eye candy.”
Furthermore, Ginelsa didn’t want to restrict the significance of the term “Bebot.” “I wanted to make sure that word wasn’t just a Filipino thing, that it also meant all kinds of races, but not just about females, but to make it like a hip word, like cool—Like it means hot, crazy, cool.”
Ultimately, Ginelsa wanted to send a greater message about diversity through the video. “The only scene that I really imagined from the get go was the scene in the backyard where it becomes this celebration of culture,” said Ginelsa. The scene presents a youthful crowd in colorful hip hop gear, pumping their fists in unison as Apl.de.Ap’s shouts “Sige!” “If you look at that scene carefully,” Ginelsa told me, “There’re blacks, whites, Hispanics in that one crowd. For me, that was the statement of the whole video.”
But as much as Ginelsa wanted the videos to reach audiences inside and outside of the Filipino community, he still faces a lot of obstacles in doing so. For one thing, he might have completed the videos, but he hasn’t finished paying for them. “You can’t even tell me I sold out,” he said. “I’m still in debt.” Ginelsa even admitted that he contributed funds that Apl doesn’t know about.
Of course, the golden question now is, did it all pay off?
While Black Eyed Peas fans and Filipino Americans have bombarded internet message boards with praise, particularly for “Generation Two,” Ginelsa hasn’t heard much from anyone out of his niche audience. Then again, that’s because “Bebot” remains absent from their TV screens. But mostly, Ginelsa has been particularly bothered by the recent criticisms of his videos’ portrayal of women from members within the Filipino community. A group of prominent Californian Asian and Filipino Studies professors wrote a public letter to Ginelsa after the “Bebot” videos premiered on August 4th, stating that Ginelsa reduces Filipinas to “hoochie mamas” who are objectified by Filipino “playas.”
Ginelsa defended his videos saying, “I’m just glad that ‘Gen Two’ turned out the way I wanted to rather than what I know it could have been. So people can misread it and say this and that and it was my intention to portray them as negative or as whores or whatever. I’m always aware of the responsibilities I have as a filmmaker.”
However, Ginelsa remains distressed over the snappy online debate provoked by the letter. “Even though there’s a lot of healthy dialogue, people start getting defensive and people start attacking each other,” said Ginelsa. “So now it looks like now this video is provoking this internal thing within our community that I didn’t want to begin with. Why couldn’t we have a more controlled and healthy dialogue about this?”
Perhaps Ginelsa can rest assured that any publicity is good publicity, even if it is bad, especially considering the lack of attention from the label and every other major music channel. That said, Ginelsa is trudging ahead and continuing to promote “Bebot” in spite of the obstacles he faces inside and outside of the Filipino community.
“It’s all baby steps,” Ginelsa said. “We got the video made, that was an important step. What else can I do? I’m a small player.”
For now, Ginelsa plans to independently release the “Bebot” videos on DVD, but he’s not entirely sure yet. What he is sure about is that he’s going to need a lot of consumer support to show the label and the mainstream world that these videos do have importance in America.
“I always joke around, ‘Bootleg a movie like Glitter,’ but when it comes down to independent Asian American films, even a movie like Harold and Kumar, buy it,” says Ginelsa. “In the end, investors want to see returns on their films, and if we live in this mainstream mentality of waiting for DVD or bootlegging, then it really defeats the purpose.”
“Buying a ticket to our movie is like voting, like telling Hollywood, ‘Hey make more videos about our community,’” said Ginelsa. “That for me is a more powerful statement. Face it, we do live in a Caucasian world.” Or perhaps he meant a corporate one.
Date Posted: 9/7/2006