Trigger warning: This article tackles mental health and mentions ableist words and phrases.
The conversation to end the stigma on mental health has been going on for years. It’s a slow process, but nonetheless it’s steadily inching toward a safe space for everyone. Still, something can easily make all that effort seem for naught, like a new movie from a notoriously popular filmmaker.
First teased in March last year, this film is about three mental facility patients: a comfort woman (Gina Pareño), an orphan (Baron Geisler), and an arsonist (Chad Kinis). The movie will supposedly explore how each patient became who they are and draw parallels between society and life inside the facility’s walls.
It seems to be another movie under the guise of edgy, “daring” cinema, a noticeable pattern in Yap’s works. But let’s get down to why people have a problem with his latest film. The issue isn’t the fact that it deviates from the norm or that it’s likely to use profanities in every chunk of dialogue (the signature VinCentiments touch)―it’s the title.
It may be “just a movie” to some, but film has the power to influence, inspire or shape mindsets like other creative platforms.
“Tililing” references mental illness, often used in a degrading or insulting manner: The gossipy “Baka may tililing ’yan,” the ‘banter’ kind “Para kang may tililing,” or worse, the ever-so condescending “’Wag kang lalapit d’yan, may tililing ’yan.”
Sounds familiar? This is the kind of language often used to refer to someone who’s remotely eccentric or has a legitimate mental condition but is often reduced to being “mentally deranged” or even “unhinged.” It generalizes people with totally different mental conditions: Bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, among many others.
This title, plus the seemingly comedic approach of the Lars Von Trier-esque movie poster, appears to make light of mental health and ableist language in general. The teaser alone seems to dismiss legitimate mental conditions just to say, “Hey, we’re all a little bit crazy.”
“May sayad, may sapak, may saltik, may topak, may tama, may pitik. Lahat tayo ay baliw, sira-ulo at praning. Lahat tayo ay may TILILING,” reads the film’s description.
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It’s interesting to note as well that some cast members in this film have opened up about their mental health in the past, have played roles onscreen about the topic or have people with special needs in their lives.
After an incident a couple of years ago, Geisler has been speaking at forums as an advocate of mental health and documenting his recovery on social media. Pareño played a mother of three children with mental illnesses in an episode of drama anthology “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” while Candy Pangilinan’s son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Before anyone pulls a “#JustSaying,” we hear you, you can argue that the title is “catchy,” short enough that it’s “easy for the masses to understand,” and that those opposing this approach are “too sensitive” because “ang bilis ma-offend.”
You can also argue that people who deal with mental conditions could weaponize words like “tililing” the same way some queer people have used words like “bayot” and “bakla” to fight discrimination and empower the community.
You can argue as well that we should spare any judgement and wait for the entire movie to come out before we draft our opinions.
If we’re meant to be educated by whatever nuance it can offer once we watch it, then it has defeated that purpose right from the start.
What some people fail to see here is how this movie sets our fight against the stigma on mental health several steps backward. Imagine (hopefully) picking up (again, hopefully) meaningful lessons on mental health from a film titled “Tililing.” If we’re meant to be educated by whatever nuance it can offer once we watch it, then it has defeated that purpose right from the start.
You can have a tongue-in-cheek tone without further perpetuating already ableist views. You can make films that properly portray people with mental conditions, disabilities and illnesses. Just because this is the kind of language we’re used to doesn’t mean there’s no room for change.
It’s not and will never be funny. It may be “just a movie” to some, but film has the power to influence, inspire or shape mindsets like other creative platforms. Persons with disabilities and mental illnesses deserve better films, particularly films that don’t use their conditions for clout.
Still from “Tililing” teaser