Excess power, avarice, immense wealth, beauty and disturbing – these are some of the words to describe Lauren Greenfield’s Showtime documentary, “The Kingmaker” which delves into matriarch Imelda Marcos’ past political history and present ambitions.
Emmy award winning U.S. documentary filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield, known for documentaries such as “Generation Wealth” and “The Queen of Versailles” began filming Imelda Marcos, in 2014. This intimate access to Imelda Marcos, who was 85 years old at the time, initially started as a project to showcase the extravagance of the former First Lady of the Philippines and her pet project, the safari park created by the Marcos family on the island of Calauit in 1976.
But as Greenfield continued to explore and delve into the Marcos’ political dynasty and past, she deftly weaves a portrait of Imelda Marcos, who considers herself to be a Mother of the Philippines and the World, one who is caring but who has an outlandishly lavish and opulent lifestyle and relishes in it; to a savvy political female powerhouse who masks a ruthless greed for power and wealth at all costs to the detriment of the Philippine people and with plans to restore the Marcos dynasty to power.
The first part of “The Kingmaker” appears to be light and entertaining describing the beginning of Imelda Marcos’ journey from her childhood, to becoming a beauty queen in 1953, her 11 day courtship to Ferdinand Marcos which resulted in marriage in 1954, his ascent to power and presidency in 1965 and showcasing her extravagant lifestyle which she comments on with a lot of humor. Then at half way, the documentary takes a sudden turn from Imelda Marcos’ “perception” of her golden era of the Marcos reign to the “reality” of the abuses of power and the atrocities of the Marcos regime and then to the current disturbing political landscape in the Philippines.
In the film, Imelda says “Perception is real and the truth is not”.
The first part of “The Kingmaker” starts off with Imelda Marcos as the narrator and from her POV (point of view). Imelda Marcos is very confident and not shy about her ostentatious, opulent, excessive, extravagant and lavish lifestyle. She loves being known as a global icon of excess.
She mentions that she did not like living in the royal palace because it was not luxurious enough for her. She points to her Picasso and Michelangelo paintings on the wall. She often jokes and makes fun of her 3000 shoe collection. At an event, she has cupcakes served with a shoe design on the top of each cake. She jokes:
“There are no skeletons in Imelda’s closet. Only beautiful shoes”
Dressing in extravagant clothes and looking her best is important to her. At the beginning of the film, Greenfield opens with the former beauty queen getting her make-up done and asking “How’s my tummy? Does it look big?” She also says that poor people want to see her at her best:
“I have to always dress up because the poor always looks for a star in the dark of the night.”
Imelda states she has bank accounts in 170 countries. She also discusses her “diamonds in diapers” story of how she had to smuggle diamonds in diapers when fleeing the Philippines which helped pay for her legal fees.
When being interviewed once, she discusses being an orphan at a young age when her mother died. She said it was difficult for her because there was no money but then quickly adds there was no mother.
Imelda paints a picture of the Marcos era as a golden era when the Philippines flourished saying, “Before, during my time, there were no beggars” as she dishes out dollar bills to children in hospitals and on the streets.
She was very proud of her Noah’s Ark island of Calauit. On her trip to Kenya in 1976, she decided that she wanted to import beautiful animals to the Philippines and had 104 animals such as giraffes and zebras imported. But now she says the island is in ruin and not as beautiful as during the Marcos Presidency.
She values beauty saying “I try to beautify the country – they call it extravagance, frivolity”.
She considers herself as the mother of the Philippine people and the world:
“I was always criticized for being excessive, but that is mothering”.
Several times in the documentary she is shown giving out dollar bills to children and the poor. She is proud of hospitals that were built, the San Juanico Bridge known as the “Bridge of Love” and other beautification projects she created during the Marcos Presidency.
She revels in consorting with Mao Tse Tung, Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Fidel Castro and many other world leaders when she was a First Lady. She acknowledges that being First Lady or having Presidential power gave her power to do many things she could not do normally and she wishes she still had that power.
In “The Kingmaker”, Imelda Marcos also shows a room full of documents for just one case filed against her after she and her husband had to flee the Philippines following the People Power Protests in 1986. In 1990, Imelda Marcos was acquitted of all racketeering charges. Imelda mentions that she knew she would win because they cannot accuse her of wanting an extravagant lifestyle.
Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. In 1991, Cory Aquino allowed Imelda and the family to return to the Philippines but not Marco’s body.
When Lauren Greenfield realized that Imelda Marcos’ version of reality of the Marcos regime from 1965 to 1986 was distorted – Imelda did not “perceive” the reign of terror, the brutalities and corruption, the press was shut down, there was martial law for 8 years and the fact that the Marcos family stole $10 billion from the Philippine people during the two decade dictatorship; Greenfield decided to interview the destitute inhabitants of Calauit who were once evicted for the creation of the safari reserve; many historians and victims of the Marcos regime.
Many of the victims and activists of the Marcos regime described the rapes and brutalities they had to endure during the Marcos “reign of terror”. One victim described how he was tortured on the San Juanico Bridge or “The Bridge of Love”.
During the Marcos regime, 70 000 democracy activists were imprisoned, 35 000 were tortured and 3200 were murdered. Greenfield showed footage of the brutalities and killings from the eight years of martial law and of the current Rodrigo Duterte Presidency, the latter she photographed herself.
When opponent to the regime, Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines in 1983, he was immediately murdered at Manila International Airport. Many blamed Imelda Marcos for his killing.
In the third part of the documentary, Greenfield showcases the current political landscape in the Philippines with the Marcos dynasty making a come-back aided with the use of social media to create fake news, the election of a pro-Marcos President Rodrigo Duerte in 2016 and the political ambitions of Imelda Marcos to ensure her son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr becomes the next Vice President and President of the Philippines.
Greenfield shows the Marcos family gaining traction in the Philippines with the young who have no recollection of the past. Many also embrace the Marcos family because of the fake news created on social media by the Marcos family. Their signature slogan is “Make the Philippines great again”. The Marcos family also gave large amounts of funding to President Duerte’s campaign. Imelda Marcos’ charisma and stardom is still popular with the masses.
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, Imelda ensured that her deceased husband, Ferdinand Marcos finally be buried at the Hero’s Cemetery.
“Bongbong” has described his mother as a skilled “political animal”. Imelda Marcos has been Congresswoman for Ilocos Norte from 2010 to 2019. Imee Marcos has been elected to the Senate and her son, Matthew Manotoc replaced her as Governor of Ilocos Norte. Bongbong came close to winning the Vice Presidential nomination in 2016. In July 2019, Vice President Leni Robredo was charged with sedition along with 35 opposition figures. This strategy opens the door for Bongbong to become Vice President and eventually to take over and become President of the Philippines.
Imelda Marcos is still a strong political figure and matriarch who wants to ensure that her son, “Bongbong” carries on the legacy of his father and grandfather. Thanks to her efforts and skill, the Marcos political dynasty and legacy is strong and intact today. Imelda wants to ensure her son becomes President or the next “King”.
Greenfield takes the audience on a journey that results in investigative journalism – morphing from a participatory to an expository documentary.
Lauren Greenfield’s message to the audience is if you do not pay attention to history, it will repeat itself. If you do not learn from the lessons of history, then it will also repeat itself.
Imelda Marcos, this 90 year old matriarch, wants to ensure the Marcos dynasty and legacy continues. She says “I always get what I want”.
“Nobody can stop me”.
Lauren Greenfield warns of the chilling echo of the past from democracy to authoritarianism. This riveting, insightful, detailed, sometimes humorous and mostly chilling documentary, “The Kingmaker” will be shown at the Laemmle Theatres starting November 8.