Director: Lauren Greenfield
Release: 13 December
In 1986, after a 21-year reign over the Philippines, Imelda Marcos and her despot husband, president Ferdinand Marcos, fled to Hawaii. Protestors tore into their abandoned palace, each claiming what they could from the 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, and 3000 pairs of shoes left behind. On the helicopter, Imelda Marcos sat with bags of inscribed gold bricks and millions of dollars of jewellery.
In 1991 she and her family – minus the deceased Ferdinand – returned home, and before long Imelda was plotting the family’s political comeback, in a bid to restore her name and build a dynasty. Greenfield’s remarkable film – one of the best of the year – uses a mix of archival footage and one-on-one interviews with the First Lady from around the time of her son’s 2016 vice president campaign up until present day to build a fascinating picture of the Philippines over the last 70 years.
Imelda now uses her ill-gotten gains – spread between 170 hidden bank accounts, something she confesses to on camera while explaining the restraints she lives under – to not only fund her son’s campaign but also it turns out…well, you’ll see.
The Filipino people themselves are portrayed as a very forgiving people, one that, to some extent, doesn’t seem to hold the past transgressions of the Marcos family up to the light of present day. There’s still discontent among them however, and there are some very loud voices here bravely showing themselves on camera, but there’s also, incredibly; support. The legitimacy of this support is hazy however as voter fraud is rife and the legions of Manila’s poor are easily bought over (we see Imelda handing out peso notes from her car, we also hear of voting quid pro quo; a vote for a free meal). It only goes to highlight the sway and financial clout that the Marcos dynasty still waves over the country.
Perhaps the most singularly fascinating and equally enraging element of this entire 100-minute documentary is how, on the one hand; yes Imelda Marcos is an incredibly smart and astute woman and possibly one of the greatest political manipulators of not just one century but two. But, on the other hand, she juxtaposes this ferocious nature of hers with a rather saintly ‘mother of the Philippines’ attitude, the two sides of her woven quite perplexingly together as she sees herself as a saviour of the city, of the poor and of the people in general.
When she was anything but. Under the eight years of martial law declared by Imelda’s husband in the 1970s, there were 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 individual tortures, and 70,000 people were incarcerated. It’s also reported that 737 Filipinos disappeared between 1975 and 1985. All this while the Marcos family amassed an illegally gained personal fortune of between $5-10 billion dollars, most of which was never recovered.
Words: Shane O’Reilly