Diamonds in Diapers: Kingmaker (2019) Film Review

When the Filipino masses were mobilizing towards Malacañang, the Marcoses had to evade. Having jewelry at her reach and diapers of her grandchild in a bag, Imelda swiftly slipped some diamonds into the diapers before finally fleeing through the helicopter.


That saved them from the coming persecution. Or at least, that’s what she paid for the lawyers.

The Kingmaker, a 2019 documentary film by the American Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, presents a fair and safe exposition of the extravagant, the insane, and the Imeldific history of the Marcoses. Aside from new video footage from the Martial Law era, exclusive access to Imelda’s splendor, and compelling testimonials from political figures, the film did not offer anything else but a renewal of rage. What Kingmaker achieves is the reminder to Filipinos about the atrocities, the excesses, and the extreme narratives the Marcoses committed and perpetuated which are all continually manifested today.


It’s a Filipino story told by a non-Filipino. And for better or for worse, Greenfield evidently has done her homework well. Started working on the documentary in 2014 with an initial and incomplete perception, she is able to link, situate, and reflect the past regime to the present political climate. The film chronicles events from the relationship of Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Romualdez to their political ascendancy in the country. But the film did not limit itself from the historical and political; Kingmaker implicates the construction of a politician and a budding politician, and of a state and nation-building.

Although the film almost celebrated Imelda (which can be misconstrued if it wasn’t for the careful editing), it is able to balance the exhibition through gathering testimonials from the “truth-tellers” and juxtapose them with the 'unreliable narrative' of Imelda herself.

The documentary, despite being patterned in the conventional Western filmmaking, does not have a narrator but relevant people expressing their minds with civility and sometimes arrogance. Ferdinand Marcos’ and Benigno Aquino’s old speeches and popular recordings, Bongbong Marcos’ and Noynoy Aquino’s interviews, Marcos’ close friends and Martial Law victims build the film’s narration which, to an extent, makes it dangerous. The insertion of Cory Aquino’s old interviews, Leni Robredo’s responses, and Andy Baustista’s career timeline over the film production contextually contribute more to the already apparent contrast and purposeful opposition of narratives. L. Greenfield lets the audience examine their moral compass and leaves them deciding whether to consume her film as crucial knowledge of the time or to reduce it as old information exposed to and made for foreign audiences.

“The only more powerful than King is the Kingmaker.”

And the kingmaker is a woman – a wife and a mother. The kingmaker is Imelda.
Her delusions are her strengths. Her money is just an accessory.
Imelda wears red and suddenly, the blood of the past reflects.
She confuses her mother with money, gives one thousand peso bills as candies.
She grooms her son to be like her and her husband – a ‘political animal’ too insatiable to even accept defeat.

But I thought history is written by victors. Why do Filipinos confuse and forget what is written and what had truly happened? This just means that even the Marcoses didn’t win, they are actually yet to lose since Bongbong lost the vice presidency (2016), but his sister Imee later won the senate.

We may have succeeded after crucially and critically fighting the injustices and inhumanity for years under the dark regime, but we have lost our social responsibility to uphold the truth of the past to the present, haven’t we? Yes, the force is too strong but that didn’t stop the People Power. Today we have a Marcos in a different name. We have the truth of the present, but the reality seems to bring back the past.

For its merit, Kingmaker is essentially informative. The risk, however, is when educators champion it, manipulators will also do their job. The film did not paint Imelda Imeldific – for it is already known. The film did practice fairness, and it’s this fairness in getting both sides that weakens the being of such documentary.

Imbibed with colorful but grim Philippine politics, the Kingmaker misses the corrective stance to combat historical revisionism which it itself tries to challenge.

"Perception is real, and the truth is not."

How come?

When the film is finally released widely, cinema cannot afford discursive mediation. Not always. The film premiere in the Philippines was mediated by the academe, institutions for progress – and that is sadly a privilege. Once Kingmaker becomes available beyond international film festivals, its own existence might be regrettable.


30 January 2020

The author is a film student and a pioneering member of Cine Critiko Filipino who attended the Philippine premiere of the film in University of the Philippines Diliman - Cine Adarna

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