First published in 2005, the Award-winning Filipino komik, Trese, has made its debut as an animated series on America’s juggernaut streaming service, Netflix. Through this new series, viewers are given an inside look into not only the world of Filipino mythology but the culture of the Philippines as well. Seeing as though countless animes have been featured on the service, it is still surprising to see a Filipino-inspired backstory take the spotlight. It is refreshing to witness more media representation for many Filipinos, to both the diaspora generation and native Filipinos. So without further adieu, let’s dive into this new series, without any spoilers!
What is Trese?
The horror komik, which was first adapted by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldismom, now turned into a series, follows the story of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra is the female protagonist, who has taken her father’s role as a babaylan, or guardian and healer of the Manila people. A babaylan, acts as a communicator or bridge between the supernatural and human realms. Through this role, Alexandra is challenged with solving the abnormal criminal behavior affecting both her community and the mythological world. As the show’s female lead, Alexandra shows true grit for her job, hoping to lead in peace between her two worlds. However as more criminal activity begins to intertwine between the human realm and supernatural realm, Alexandra is tasked with keeping balance and helping maintain order. Throughout the six-part series, the audience is introduced to a plethora of mythological creatures and folklore tales, keeping viewers on their seats, both frightened and enticed to learn more.
Watching as a Filipina-American
Watching Trese, it felt as though I went through a rollercoaster of emotions. There were feelings of familiarity, comfort, curiosity, but I also experienced fear and unease at the same time seeing both the supernatural creatures of the dark and corrupted social systems of the human realm wreak havoc.
Growing up in a Filipino family, I could recall a few stories, customs, and even creatures shown in the series. Many of the dark supernatural creatures are referred to as “mumus” or monsters. Growing up, I remember hearing stories of the Aswangs (evil spirits) such as the vampire ghoul featured in Trese that terrorizes the streets of Manila when night falls. There is another Aswang in the series I heard of growing up: the manananggal. The mananggal is depicted as a beautiful older woman able to detach itself from their torso and fly into the night.
As legend has it (or my mom recalls), when my Uncle was born in Manila a mananggal appeared and attempted to kidnap him. In a courageous effort to free him, my family burned tires around their house to keep the mananggal away. Hearing of the mumus growing up I feared these supernatural creatures. Now, however (still a bit afraid) I can watch Trese with great pride and comfort. Knowing that part of the culture I grew up in was not only being acknowledged but introduced to new watchers is exciting to see unfold.
Representation or Exploitation?
In the past couple of years, there have been more introductions to Asian-led casts, foreign film frenzy, and overall (accurate) representation of Asian culture in Hollywood. While many of us have grown up with limited Asian figures in media, American society can witness more portrayals of Asian culture and role models in the past 5 years than older generations have seen in their whole lifetime.
However, with all of this, the Asian community is still left to question if more recent portrayals of the culture are done for proper representation or to exploit the new wave of Asian representation in media. Netflix is a multi-billion dollar corporation, so there is a concern that the authentic storytelling of the Filipino culture would be neglected to only make a profit. However, as told by Ricky Soberano, the authors, Tan and Baldismo have been able to express their artistic freedom as showrunners and work alongside other Filipino creatives to captivate Filipino culture without stereotyping the Pinoy community.
Trese FTW! (For the Watchers)
Trese is more than a faced-paced, rousing storyline. It is an opportunity to expose Filipino culture to different audiences. The mythological creatures of the dark make the series all the more mysterious and exciting to watch. However, there is more to show than folklore stories, it also depicts many of the current issues going on in the Philippines. For instance, the war on drugs, poverty, social injustices, and more issues have been introduced in the series. With both exposure to Filipino norms and current issues in the Philippines, the show is just as informative as it is entertaining. Trust that this new investigative thriller with a kickass Asian female lead is the next show that you need on your watchlist.
Let us know what shows you plan on watching this fall @HerCampusSJSU