IMMANUEL PORTUS WRITES — On May 2 the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival opened its first night with a film that took home the Grand Jury Prize soon after: “Yellow Rose,” helmed by director Diane Paragas and starring Tony winner Lea Salonga and Tony nominee Eva Noblezada— all prominent Filipino entertainers both on the local and international stage. “Yellow Rose” will soon be showing in local theaters in the Southern California area and will be distributed through streaming services.
The film revolves around the themes of resiliency and identity, told through an oft-overlooked yet unique lens of American cinema: the lives of Filipino immigrants. Noblezada takes on the character of a 17- year-old Filipina residing in Texas who harbors a secret dream of telling stories and embracing emotion by becoming a prodigious country musical star. Circumstances take a hard and capricious turn when she returns home one night to witness her mother detained and arrested by authorities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She runs away, and the audience is left to follow her mesmerizing journey as she is caught between staying on her own, independent path or getting deported along with her mother to the Philippines.
Aside from being an artful rendition of a story often untold—the deportation of Filipinos— this film showcases a fine collaboration among Filipino artists eager to tell their stories. Lea Salonga, known worldwide for her Tony Award (Miss Saigon) and for being the singing voice behind Disney’s animated characters Mulan and Jasmine (Aladdin), came out of her hiatus just to act in Paragas’ film. Noblezada has also carved out a name for herself as a Tony Nominee, thanks to her performance in that same Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Also noteworthy is the fact that the music was composed to reflect the fusion of American country and Filipino musical tastes, resulting in a tone of longing for family, love, and the tranquility of the islands while living in another country.
“Yellow Flower” has not stopped at the gates of Hollywood; rather, it is an inspiration to the entire Philippine film industry and is already slated for production within the largest media groups in the country. Films that have diverged from the overwhelming trope of poverty and violence-themed Filipino films are now making their way to art-houses willing to show productions that focus on what it truly means to be a Filipino—whether through music, culture, or the country’s colorful heritage.