For anyone who’s fallen down the BL rabbit hole―from the widely popular Thai series “2gether” to local faves like “Gameboys”―it’s been a whirlwind romance with tons of new series just waiting for us to binge watch them.
The queer Filipino coming-of-age era is slowly making its mark, treating us to both feel-good rom-com vibes and honest messages on the realities of queer youth. But here’s the thing: Many of these queer stories are (still) categorized as BL or GL, separated from the rom-com genre of your streaming platform of choice.
Enter romantic comedy “Oh, Mando!”―yes, a rom-com. Not just BL, but a rom-com.
“Oh, Mando!” follows Armando (played by one-half of our fave “Gameboys” ship Kokoy de Santos) and his self-discovery journey. He literally has it all: the lead role in a play, great friends, an amazing girlfriend and a pretty fun time at college. But he’s not being true to himself though: He’s been suppressing his feelings for boys despite having a relationship with Krisha (played by Barbie Imperial). That is, until he meets bisexual jock Barry (played by Alex Diaz).
Right off the bat, we’re treated to fuzzy rom-com moments between the characters. But what’s also interesting is we get snippets of the colorful narratives that the series aims to tell: embracing yourself wholeheartedly, acknowledging that love is love (is love) and even showcasing Pride for what it is.
Director Eduardo Roy Jr. took inspiration from his friends’ experiences of coming out and dealing with its aftermath, taking great care to portray the queer community’s sentiments through the little hints of the emotional roller coasters the characters (and possibly we, too) would go through.
“Hindi naging issue ang kanilang gender. Ang naging issue ay ang kanilang mga maling desisyon, tamang desisyon, kung ano ’yung nagpapasaya o nagpapalungkot doon sa character,” he says during a press conference.
Love is love is love.
“Oh, Mando!” also adopts an ethos to break boundaries through its cast given that Alex himself is queer.
“I feel like, as a person, I don’t need to study for a BL role kasi I have experienced BL in my life. It’s more of being honest with myself.”
His character Barry is openly bisexual, leading a basketball varsity team with members who are pretty chill with their captain’s preferences. Whether or not someone’s preference matters in love, it all boils down to the series’ message: “Love is love is love.”
“Love really has no gender,” Alex says. “If we vibe, if we click, if we get along, babae man o lalaki, and there’s a level of communication na, alam niyo ’yun? Naiintindihan niyo talaga ‘yung isa’t isa, I think that’s what’s important.”
Even Kokoy, who’s had a shot at a BL series with the success of “Gameboys,” agrees, unbothered by the potential stereotyping.
“I think wala naman pong masama na ma-typecast sa ganitong role. Ito kasing mga karakter na ’to, representation po ng mga totoong tao,” he says. “Sana lang nabibigyan ko ng hustisya ’yung mga ginagampanan kong role.”
It’s not about who you sleep with. It’s about what you can bring to the table, what you can offer and what talent you possess.
There’s (still) a lot of stigma toward the LGBTQ+ community, across all colors of the spectrum, TBH. With a diverse cast, “Oh, Mando!” tackles the leads’ fluidity and bisexuality in particular, the latter sometimes misunderstood even within the community itself.
Bi-erasure happens and the series reworks the narrative to amplify voices in the community. Alex himself has a thing or two to say about that: “It’s not about who you sleep with. It’s about what you can bring to the table, what you can offer and what talent you possess.”
“Oh, Mando!”’s message on love is for all kinds of it, across the broad queer spectrum and even self-love as seen in the trailer: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself.” Which is something that is at the core of Barbie’s struggles with body positivity and the way she deals with it.
“Habang tumatagal, ’pag may nakakasama akong mga iba’t ibang tao, [I’ve] learn to love [my] own body talaga. Pinopost ko rin po siya para sa sarili ko, like wow, ito ’yung improvement,” she says.
Sa susunod, ilagay na natin siya sa kategoryang rom-com, kasama ng mga ibang straight na kwentong pag-iibigan ng mga lalaki at babae.
Love has no gender, just as how this series has no particular target demographic. It’s a rom-com for everybody, from the boomers stuck in the boomer mindset to young people who have yet to understand the colorful LGBTQ+ community.
“Sana lahat ay makanood at maintindihan kahit papaano ’yung mensahe, hindi lang ’yung kilig, tawanan, kundi ’yung mensaheng nakapaloob doon,” director Eduardo says.
As “Oh, Mando!” joins the list of rom-coms to look forward to, Direk Eduardo hopes that the popularity of queer narratives is not just a fad. It’s the age of the queer self-discovery, and they’re just as real and valid as the coming-of-age stories of heterosexual people.
“Siguro baby steps. Sa susunod, ilagay na natin siya sa kategoryang rom-com, kasama ng mga ibang straight na kwentong pag-iibigan ng mga lalaki at babae,” he says.
“Oh, Mando!” is streaming on the iWantTFC app and website starting on Nov. 5.
Art by Yel Sayo