Movies & TV

Chai Fonacier on Bisaya Representation in Philippine Cinema and Abroad

She stars in the upcoming psych thriller Nocebo opposite Eva Green and Mark Strong.
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In the latest episode of Esquire Philippines’ Lonely Hearts podcast, Cebuano actress Chai Fonacier (Patay na si Hesus and Respeto) shared her two cents on Bisaya representation in local and international entertainment.

Bisaya to the bone—and proud of it—Fonacier is currently filming the Irish-Philippine film Nocebo in Dublin with co-stars Eva Green and Mark Strong. Her casting caught national attention as she joins the ranks of local stars representing Philippine talent abroad, particularly the underrepresented and underrated Cebuano community.

“Are you a Filipino actor or are you a Cebuano actor?” Chai wonders on the latest episode of Lonely Hearts. “When they (film crew) asked me, ‘You’re from the Philippines, right?’  [I reply], 'Yeah, I am from the Philippines…' I make a distinction: 'I come from Central Visayas—I’m Cebuano.'”

Born in Cagayan de Oro and raised in Cebu, Chai has championed Bisaya representation through her work, with the latest being the psychological thriller Nocebo, where she’ll be speaking in Cebuano—not Tagalog—for the role.

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In mainstream Philippine media, it’s a well-known fact that other cultures are largely underrepresented, and in some cases, misrepresented. Such is the case with Bisaya culture and Bisaya language, which are more often than not, relegated to the token Bisaya character who mispronounces words instead of diving deep into everything the culture has to offer.

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“I have nothing [against] yaya roles. And it's a very decent job. It's just that, it's usually given to a Bisaya actor, and then made the butt of jokes, and then [they’re like], 'Do your funny Bisaya accent,'” shares Chai on the podcast. “OK, we (Bisaya) are funny. We know that we’re funny. We can make fun of ourselves. But this is just ridicule. This is already ridicule for me. So there are some roles that I’ve turned down.”

To listen to more of Chai’s experiences as a Cebuano actress, the time Lonely Hearts host Sarge Lacuesta almost got killed on the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge, and the demand for more nuanced Bisaya representation, listen to the latest episode of Esquire Philippines’ Lonely Hearts podcast on SpotifyApple PodcastsAnchor, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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