With a thirty year career as an actor, health TV and film director, find writer and radio announcer, Manny Castaneda is among the most well-known in the Filipino entertainment industry. Twenty years before Ellen Degeneres came out on an American sitcom, Manny Castaneda played supporting gay roles on Filipino television. Manny invited us to his home where we had marienda (Filipino snack time).
Lisa: What are you most proud of in your career?
Manny: In the late 70s and 80s I introduced the gay character into Filipino television. It was a recognition that there were gays in society. We went from exclusion to tolerance. You have to start somewhere. At the time it was one big step. I’m now close to retiring and hoping that the younger generation can take it to full acceptance.
Lisa: How did playing gay characters shape your career?
Manny: As an actor, 99% of my roles were as the village queer, the clown, and the comic relief. When you are gay in the Philippines, you are expected to be flaming. There was a time I went to the set with dull color clothing wearing gray, blue and white. I was told to go home to get my loud colored shirt, my orange pants, and my magenta scarf. In many ways I was pigeonholed only into gay roles.
Lisa: What is it like to be gay in the Philippines?
Manny: Generally, gays in the Philippines are relatively in good condition primarily because this is a very maternal country. Mothers love Mama’s boys. They say that if you have a gay child, he is your good luck charm because eventually he will take care of you.
At the same time, gays are extremely tolerated but not completed accepted. People love to be with you and they enjoy having you at parties. It’s a status symbol if you have a fabulous gay friend. But that is a difference in being tolerated and accepted.
Lisa: How so?
Manny: Gay are put on the fringes of things. In a cake you are the decoration, the icing, but you will never be the cake.
Here you have to fit into a certain nitch. When people want to see a lawyer, and there is a choice between a mediocre straight lawyer or an excellent gay lawyer, people will still choose the mediocre straight lawyer. Now, if they want a haircut, and there is a choice between a mediocre gay hairstylist and an excellent straight hair stylist, they will chose the gay hairstylist.
I often felt that I people encouraged me towards the arts, but only because I was gay. Here I am, a movie director, a comedian primarly playing gay roles, and a tv writer of romantic stories. Filipinos say…’leave the arts to the gays, they know what they’re doing.’ But sometimes gay have no talents for the arts and they’re forced to do it! You become a designer or a filmmaker, but not a scientist or a businessman.
Lisa: But obviously, you are quite good at it.
Manny: Well, if you have no other choice you might as well make the most out of the situation.
Lisa: What would you have become if you did not go into acting?
Manny: Who knows? Maybe a General in the Army.
Lisa: What do you see as the biggest barrier to changing beliefs in the Philippines?
Manny: The Church is the biggest stomping block in our fight for equal rights. This is a predominantly Catholic country. We have Medieval Catholicism in the Philippines. There are only two countries in the world that don’t have divorce, the Philippines and the Vatican. As long as the Church will tell the Filipinos that homosexual activity is a sin, the Filipinos will not allow the gays to have equal rights.
Lisa: What are your hopes for the community here?
Manny: Equality and rights.
I have seen so many instances in which a gay couples live together for several years and then after one partner dies, everything belonging to the deceased goes to the siblings. I would like to see sexual orientation not limit your choice of career. Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with your ability. If a gay wants to become a lawyer, then he should get business regardless of his sexual preference.
Every time I get a chance to speak on equality, I do. We’re just asking for the proper respect we deserve. It might take 1000 years, but the change will come.
To see video scenes from Manny’s interview stay tunes for next week’s Filipino Search for the Supergays Video.