MANILA — To many filmmakers and creatives, the popularity of the Thai boys' love (BL) series "2gether" among Filipinos was an indication that the local audience is ready for gay love stories to go mainstream.
"2gether," which centers on college students who fall in love after pretending to be in a relationship, consistently led Philippine trends on Twitter, and is now set to be aired on local TV via Kapamilya Channel. Its sequel, too, will be simulcast in the country.
The wide and vocal fanbase of "2gether" is seen to have spurred several local projects branded as BL. The genre, which originated in Thailand, has been described as romantic comedy, only it specifically involves young adult men.
While Philippine cinema has no shortage of LGBT stories, only a handful are similar to BL in depiction — a shortage that has spurred the demand of similar Filipino content.
Since "2gether" made waves on social media in the Philippines, at least four new high-profile BL series have been announced or released here. Darryl Yap's "Sakristan" and IdeaFirst Company's "Gameboys" are ongoing, while Black Sheep's production starring Tony Labrusca and JC Alcantara, as well as Globe Studios' "Gaya sa Pelikula (Like in the Movies)" are in the pipeline.
The development of "Gaya," in particular, has been chronicled online by its writer Juan Miguel Severo ("Hintayan ng Langit").
Severo had set out to specifically cast queer actors in the lead roles, a mission he emphasized when the project was first announced. It was anchored on the belief that LGBT actors can best lend truth to portraying LGBT characters.
However, Severo said on Monday that the undertaking has proven challenging due to "systemic homophobia" that discourages gay actors to pursue gay roles, for fear of being boxed or their personal lives scrutinized.
In a series of tweets, he wrote: "Nobody asked but since we started casting for 'Gaya,' I gained better understanding of why, despite good intentions, some productions resort to casting straight actors for gay parts. Grabe, the paltry amount of experienced queer actors that went to audition was disappointing."
"Systemic homophobia pa rin ang kalaban. I learned na some queer actors are actually dissuaded from pursuing gay parts because:
"1.) They're not ready to come out yet and taking on a gay role will inevitably subject them to convos about their sexuality.
"2.) They're worried they won't get cast for other parts anymore and end up portraying the token gay best friend for all eternity because the industry hardly provides a platform for our stories."
Severo also shared a text exchange with one of his collaborators on the process of casting, where he surmised that making the auditions exclusive for queer actors would "out" successful hopefuls who weren't yet open about their sexual orientation, prior to clinching the part.
"In the end we decided not to specify in the casting call that we're looking for queer actors, and let them decide whether they're comfortable enough to disclose their SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity expression) with us in the audition process," Severo said.
With what's seen as an upcoming boom of BL content, Severo also urged the Filipino audience not to subject actors to conversations about their sexuality, unless they initiate it.
"Probably a preemptive strike against public persecution, sorry, but when we (or other upcoming queer content) do introduce our leads, pls do not pry. Let them volunteer the convo re their sexuality," he said.
Severo, who rose to fame in 2015 because of his spoken-word poetry, first spoke publicly about his sexual orientation in a 2018 interview on "Magandang Buhay."
"Trust that we are prioritizing queer actors, especially the out and proud because that's what's best for our advocacy," he said on Monday. "But we must choose who'll best serve the story, too. If someone we find is best for a part isn't out yet, let's not force him, okay? We know that's not cool."