‘Easter Sunday’ marks an important milestone for Filipino actors, culture

LOS ANGELES — For a comedy, Joe Coe’s new movie “Easter Sunday” had a lot of waterworks.

The film was no ordinary task for the comedian and the rest of the cast. Coy said being mostly Filipinos on the sets was a delight. Emotions really hit when co-star Tia Carrere revealed that it was her first time in her 40-year career playing a Filipino.

“To be able to be right in a scene with five other Filipino actors and do a scene just about a family… he’s never seen anything like this before,” Koy, 51, told the Associated Press. “We all kind of shed tears and just celebrate together because it’s like ‘Okay, this is going to be one of many moments here.'”

Coy, who is half Filipino and half white, is making his feature film debut in a film largely inspired by his Netflix stand-up special material. DreamWorks/Universal is promoting “Easter Sunday,” which opens in theaters Friday, as the first major studio film with an all-Filipino ensemble cast. Coe plays Joe Valencia, a comedian and aspiring actor who moves home to the San Francisco Bay Area for a eponymous vacation. He tries to bond with his teenage son by being nice but domineering relatives. The production comes at a time when Filipino American food, history and advocacy are emerging in an increasingly zealous.

Tia Carrere arrives at the world premiere of

Tia Carrere arrives at the world premiere of “Easter Sunday” at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles earlier this week.

Willie Sanjuan / InVision / AP

“Ultimately our stories, our faces are front and center on the big screen,” said Carrere, 55, known for films such as Wayne’s World, “True Lies” and “Lilo and Stitch.” “I have to pinch myself that I’m still here, still in business and invited to the party.”

Jimmy O. Yang (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Love Hard”), who made a cameo in “Easter Sunday,” also served as a producer. That means watching many, many audition tapes of actors of Filipino or Asian descent. Yang was blown away by the talent. This made it so difficult to cast 10 roles. They think Hollywood’s claims that it’s hard to find competent Asian actors are just lazy excuses.

“As an actor, I think all these guys are great. How did I ever get the job?” Yang said. “Some of them I wanted to call them and go ‘Hey, man! Please continue okay? We can’t hire you for this job but please keep going.'”

“Easter Sunday”, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, is set in the heavily Filipino suburb of Daly City, where screenwriter Ken Cheung immigrated as a child. He envisioned a mix of Ice Cube’s “Friday” and the holiday flick “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A producer, Cheng also wrote it during the lockdown in 2020. He then turned to Steven Spielberg, whose Amblin Partners is a co-producer. According to Cheng, within hours the great director read it and gave his approval.

“From the day we started shooting, it was something like five and a half months. And it’s fast like crazy,” Cheng said. “A lot of it is how excited everyone was about making a movie around Joe.”

Hollywood is populated with notable semi-Filipino actors like Vanessa Hudgens and Darren Criss. But Coe leans into his own legacy in his work. For example, he wanted a scene in “Easter Sunday” in which the family is packing traditional balikbayan boxes. Filipinos, usually first-generation immigrants, usually send boxes with American goods to relatives in the Philippines. Mailing balikbayan boxes is practically its own industry.

“There’s a responsibility that they put on their shoulders when they make it to this country,” Coe said. “I’ve seen that with a lot of Filipino families and I wanted to show the world how important it is to us.”

Today, Filipinos make up more than 4 million of the country’s 23 million-plus Asian population, according to the US Census. Only Chinese and Indians have more numbers. Filipino culture and history have been gaining more mainstream visibility in recent years – mostly due to decades of pro-active activism by Filipinos.

This year, a 30-foot-high Gateway Arch was unveiled in historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles and a street in Queens, New York City, was co-named Little Manila Avenue. A newly constructed Bay Area park was named for the striking Filipino American farmworkers. For years, Filipino food has been touted as the next culinary trend. Looks like the world of fine dining is having a moment again. Chicago’s Kasma becomes the only Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant in the country.

“Easter Sunday” is approaching a truly wonderful moment in Asian American history and Filipino American history, where political, social and economic capital have all come together, said Eric Pido, Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. A Background in Filipina/o American Studies. He predicts that the younger generation will raise the profile of Filipinos in the next few years.

“I think Filipino Americans are no longer shying away from playing a representational role in American politics, which will bring about all kinds of interesting things about Filipino American culture that many people just don’t think about,” Pido said. .

Last month, Koy and Cheng attended a screening of “Easter Sunday” in Daly City. Among the people was the director of Pixar’s “Turning Red,” Domi Shi. “Turning Red”, about a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl and her family, was a hit on Disney+ upon its release in March. But a white film critic called the animated feature tedious and relatable only to Xi’s Chinese family and friends. The review was later pulled over allegations of racism.

The idea that stories focusing on Asian races and cultures are too specific to be engaging is just out of date, Coe said.

“The relationship between a mother and son is the same, no matter what ethnicity,” Coe said. “I hate ignorant people who don’t move forward… There are too many people living in this country who need to be heard and it’s time to listen.”

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