Sue Prado: The actress as a vessel for stories about women and the regions

Marissa Sue Prado, or Sue Prado, as she is often billed in films, is one of the few actresses in Philippine cinema working today who has mastered restraint. Prado, who also has a strong background in theater, knows how to deliver a calculated and affecting performance on film, without calling attention to the performance itself. In her multitude of roles, she has been awarded numerous citations both local and international, including a Gawad Urian for best supporting actress for Raymond Red’s Himpapawid in 2010. 

Despite this, Prado has been tirelessly working in theater, television, and film, churning out one project after the other, sometimes in small roles as in Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful, sometimes in more memorable ones like in Louie Ignacio’s Area. Yet, one aspect of Prado’s oeuvre that is seldom discussed is her contributions to the varied, multi-dimensional representations of women onscreen, and the development of regional cinema, or those existing outside of the film capital Manila. It is hard to talk about Prado’s entire filmography in so short a time, so let us focus on five of her films which champion both women and regional stories: Jun Robles Lana’s Barber’s Tales, Gutierrez Mangansakan II’s Moro2mrw Book 1: Daughters of the Three-Tailed Banner, Byron Bryant’s Sinandomeng, Louie Ignacio’s Area, and Alvin Yapan’s Oro.

On women

In Barber’s Tales, Prado plays Rosa, a sex worker in a rural brothel during the Martial Law era. Displaying the nuances of a character that has known misogyny perhaps all her life, Prado surprises with the gentleness she provides as soon as we learn that she is also a sister to a rebel, Renan (Jess Mendoza), who is being hunted by the military. Rosa could have been just another placeholder, but the combination of Lana’s direction and Prado’s knowledge of the ins and outs of her character made all the difference.

Mangansakan’s multi-character Daughters of the Three-Tailed Banner finds Prado as Sabina, a mysterious hotel guest harboring a heavy burden. At first, Prado seems out of place, surrounded by all the Mindanaoan actors, against a milieu that is distinctly Mindanao— the hypothetical eve of the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Yet with Mangansakan’s passionate treatment of his material and Prado’s adaptability, the actress blends with the atmosphere, suspending disbelief that she is not Mindanaoan. Prado, who hails from Camarines Sur and Pangasinan, easily disappears into her role of a woman from Mindanao who fell victim to male dominance. 

“Part of the research or study (for a character) should involve manner of speaking, diction, non-verbal nuances, paano magbihis (manner of dressing) and other related things,” Prado said.

Sinandomeng, meanwhile, transports Prado to the ricefields of Liliw, Laguna, as a woman forced to take on her husband’s work after his sudden death. As Sinang, Prado endures the scorching heat, endlessly plowing the field and planting rice as a source of food and livelihood for her children and the rest of her family. 

At this point, it is crucial to note that the struggles of Prado’s characters seems to have always been against men and patriarchy, with her character in Sinandomeng even taking on a traditional male role of farming. There’s nothing wrong about that. In fact, the role reversal is a welcome entry into the discourse of gender politics. In one scene, a male character scoffs at the idea that a woman would be tilling the land, mirroring the common ideology of binary oppositions, i.e. men before women.

In Louie Ignacio’s Area, Prado again plays a prostitute, this time with children to feed, and on a more civilized milieu. The setting is contemporary Angeles in Pampanga, where a place known as “Area” is the poor man’s version of Fields Avenue, the latter being the go-to place of U.S. soldiers for R&R. Here, Prado demonstrates a different portrayal of a prostitute, firing off one sarcastic tirade after another as a reflection of her character Julie’s cynicism. Inside the bedroom, Julie controls the clients, not the other way around. They operate at her mercy.

Prado believes that there are universal emotions, and that human nature is characterized by stimuli-reactions. “It's a matter of choosing and deciding (which of these are) applicable for the character to be portrayed,” she said.

Area is notable for the way it parallels sex and religion. The setting of the film is in a brothel community, and yet scenes of self-flagellation and penitence abound; characters even find themselves inside a church. “Religions generally teach people that dwelling on lustful sexual thoughts is ‘impure’ and a distraction from one’s spiritual nature” (McGreal, 2012). From this perspective, Prado as an actress finds herself the medium of communicating this paradox, more so since what name do people usually call out during orgasm?

Last but not the least, in one of her few outings as an “antagonist,” Prado plays Mrs. Razon, a capitalist local in Alvin Yapan’s Oro. Refusing to be relegated to the stereotypical female villain type, Prado approaches her character with empathy, which makes us hate her and appreciate her at the same time. Despite being an oppressor in the first half of the film, Mrs. Razon slowly turns into one of the victims, a transition that Prado takes with careful precision.  

On regional stories

There seems to be a renaissance of regional cinema not only in the Philippines, but in other neighboring countries. In India, a Marathi film about depression entitled Kaasav (Turtle) beat Bollywood cinema in most award categories during the National Film Awards in April (Reuters, 2017). A year prior, another Marathi film, Sairat broke box-office records. “Clearly, regional is the new cool in Indian cinema. From the fringes, regional films are moving to the mainstream. And this has to do, more than anything else, with their makers, who see no need to dilute the content to attract a wider audience” (Jha, 2016).

In Indonesia, regional films are also taking flight. Uang Panai (Money Panai), a film from Makassar, South Sulawesi, gained 300,000 admissions in just ten days, when it opened in cinemas in 2016 (Fitriani, 2016). Meanwhile, B.W. Purbanegara’s Ziarah (Pilgrimage), which features a 95 year-old woman as its main character, won best screenplay at the 2017 ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards (The Jakarta Post, 2017). “Because the so-called film industry is now actually films from Jakarta alone, I think the regional film schemes play an important role for a holistic Indonesian film industry that many people dream about," lamented Palu, Central Sulawesi-based filmmaker Yusuf Radjamuda. Radjamuda, whose short film The Backyard has already been to Vladivostok and Dubai, is optimistic about regional Indonesian films, and their potential to be representative of Indonesian cinema itself (Wong, 2017).

Back here, perhaps one of the towering achievements in local cinema last year was having four out of the seven competing full-length local films in the QCinema International Film festival coming from the regions, with Sheron Dayoc’s Women of the Weeping River winning best picture (and eventually the nod of the two Philippine Critics groups – Manunuri and Young Critics Circle– as best film of 2016) and Bagane Fiola's Baboy Halas, Wailings In The Forest as recipient of the NETPAC Prize. Meanwhile, Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s found footage horror Salvage has had a chance to be seen by a wider audience, thanks to the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino organized by the Film Development Council of the Philippines.

Regional cinema movements are flourishing around the Philippines. There are a variety of films being produced from Tuguegarao to Zamboanga, several of them have garnered national and international recognition.

Prado herself has won an international award for a regional film, having bagged the lone acting award at the 7th Annual Guam International Film festival for Joseph Laban’s The Sister. “Of course, I am grateful to be noticed and recognized. But awards or not, we should not falter and cease from improving our work. I am quite honored to have this opportunity to be of service to my fellowmen, through the arts,” she said.

In tackling any role, particularly unfamiliar ones, Prado starts with “studying the material.” According to her, “Backtracking further, observing people, my environment, circumstances, etc. is, for me, one of the pillars ng maayos na paghahanda (adequate preparation) as an actor.” Prado begins studying the material by reading the script, over and over if the need arises. “Script analysis is always critical, because character sketch and analysis will come from this,” she added.

These preparations sure went handy when Prado portrayed a woman who hails from Laguna in Sinandomeng, Pampanga in Area, Mindanao in Daughters of the Three-Tailed Banner, Camarines Sur in Oro, and an unnamed rural town in Barber’s Tales. Sure, writers and directors can be largely credited for the creation of films that champion stories from the regions, but actresses like Sue Prado are also invaluable. They bring life to the characters and stories on screen that transcend the bounds of geographies, both physical and in the realm of imagination.

–Macky Macarayan

Works cited:
Fitriani, Syarifah. (2016, Oct. 21). Film regional Indonesia berpotensi nilai jual tinggi (Indonesia regional films have high selling potential). Rappler. Retrieved from

Jha, Lata (2016, July 30). Is regional the new cool in Indian cinema? Mint. Retrieved from

McGreal, Scott A. (2012, Nov. 16). Are Sex And Religion Natural Enemies? Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Reuters (2017, April 7). Regional cinema overshadows Bollywood again at National Film Awards. Reuters. Retrieved from

The Jakarta Post (2017, May 9). Guess what?: ‘Ziarah’ wins Best Screenplay at AIFFA. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from

Wong, Karen (2017, July 31). Yusuf Radjamuda Is Optimistic About Regional Film Production. Viddsee Buzz. Retrieved from

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