'Call Her Ganda,' documentary on Jennifer Laude, to stream locally

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Feb 12 2021 12:01 PM

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MANILA -- More than six years ago, the death of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, who was killed by American marine Joseph Scott Pemberton in Olongapo City, hugged the headlines for days.

Years later, in September 2020, Pemberton was granted pardon by President Rodrigo Duterte and was sent back to the US, even as the Laude family and many other Filipinos cried foul.

In 2018, a documentary film on Laude’s case, “Call Her Ganda,” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and its international premiere at Hot Docs in 2018. At the helm was Filipino-American director PJ Raval for his Unraval Films.

After three years of getting an international audience, “Call Her Ganda” will finally be shown in the local shores after Viva bought the rights to show Laude’s documentary film that will be streamed on Viva Max starting Friday, February 12.

“Ganda” is a familiar tag Laude’s mom, Julita, fondly called her daughter. “Mula noong bata pa siya, sinasabi na niya siya si Ganda,” the mom recalled.

Laude was known as somebody who was always hopeful. “Pag uwi ko rito Ma, hindi na ako tatawanan na bakla, kasi mayroon na akong narating. May pera na ako at may kwenta na ang buhay ko,” Laude had told his mom.

“Ang pagkamatay po ni Jennifer Laude ay nagdala sa amin ng pag-asa. Sana ito po ay magdulot ng pagbabago sa ating lipunan,” said one of Laude’s friends.

“Intelihente siya at elegante. Smart sa lahat. Pinapakinggan namin siya,” said another friend.

Meanwhile, Laude’s German boyfriend, Marc Sueselbeck, remarked that she was a very giving person. “She was kind who was trying to live a very noble life.”

The documentary was reviewed on New York Times, Amazon, even on Rotten Tomatoes and Hollywood Reporter.

Its director Raval is known for his early documentary works like “Trinidad,” co-directed by Jay Hodges (2008) about sex re-assignment surgery, and “Before You Know It” (2013), that focused on gay seniors. 

Raval is also an associate professor at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas in Austin. It was at the University of Texas where Raval earned his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Film Production.

Producers of “Call Her Ganda” are Emmy-nominated filmmaker Marty Syjuco, broadcast journalist Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala and Emmy Award-winning Lisa Valencia- Svensson for her arts and culture documentary, “Herman’s House.”

Executive producers are Daniel Chalfen and Jim Butterworth, with Jean Tsien as co-executive producer, Victoria Chalk as editor and Mike Simpson as director of photography.

For the cast of “Call Her Ganda,” the documentary credited five persons associated with Laude. Aside from her and her mom Julita, the documentary features investigative journalist Meredith Talusan, transgender rights advocate Naomi Fontanos and human rights lawyer Virginia Lacsa-Suarez.

The documentary film is told through the eyes of Talusan, a transgender journalist who was then working for Vice magazine. She painted an intimate portrait of what Laude was like, the family and friends who loved her, the men and women who fought for her and the movement sparked by her death.

The outrage intensified when Pemberton was granted absolute pardon by President Duterte in 2020. Pemberton served only six years of his 10-year sentence. 

“Call Her Ganda” brings viewers to a closer look on how the family had fought long and hard for justice for Laude and withstood every false criticism hurled at them, every generous offer dangled before to drop charges against Pemberton.

The documentary shows how Nanay Julita and Atty. Suarez, stood their ground against powerful forces. The women and the organizations that rallied around the call for justice for Laude, sparked a political uprising that put the spotlight on decades of discrimination and hate crimes against the LGBT community.

“Call Her Ganda” won the Grand Jury Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2018, Best Documentary Audience Award at Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Grand Jury Special Mention at Outfest Los Angeles 2018, Audience Choice, Best Feature Film at Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2019.

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