Filmmaker Samantha Lee on why we need more queer rom-coms


samantha lee billie and emma lesbian queer filmmaker rom-com
Photos: Supplied

Queer Filipino filmmaker Samantha Lee wants to change the way we see LGBTIQ representation in film.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Sam says she uses the country’s conservative culture to inform her queer characters.

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Her most recent film, Billie and Emma, is set in the Philippines in the mid-1990s and follows a pregnant teenager who falls in love with a girl at school.

Sam told PAPER Magazine it is important young, queer people have films which are positive and accurate.

“I wanted a film that made young women or girls want to be gay,” she said.

She said LGBTIQ representation in film is often negative and a goal of hers is to shift that.

“Traditionally, queer films are really dark, and they show the negatives,” she said.

“I wanted to contribute something that was more positive and encouraging to people.”

Billie and Emma is Sam’s second film, both of which centre around the LGBTIQ community.

Her first film Baka Bukas received raving reviews, winning awards in the Philippines and abroad.

Sam also said she felt pressure during the filming of Baka Bukas saying queer acceptance intimidated her.

“I feel like there was so much expectation and burden that was put into Baka Bukas,” she said.

“Because it was one of the few queer films that came out at that time that was openly queer,” she added.

Discrimination in the Philippines

Despite the push for marriage equality, the Philippines remains a conservative country.

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Back in September, a man had his case dismissed after he tried to sue the Filipino government for disallowing same-sex marriage.

Sam also feels the discrimination, saying there have been times when she felt ashamed of her sexuality.

“[In the Philippines] I was out to my friends, but I wasn’t proud about it,” she said.

After spending time in Melbourne and abroad, however, Sam said she now has been able to accept the person she is.

“I think moving to Melbourne was when I really [became] comfortable with my queerness,” she said.

“It took really coming into my own and being comfortable with who I was before I could tell stories,” she added.

Back in the Philippines, Sam is a force to be reckoned with. She promotes the acceptance of queerness wherever she can.

“At the festival, they have a ‘Gender-Sensitivity Award’,” she said.

“When they were reading the citation, they [said], ‘This [award] goes out to a film about friendship… we give it to Billie and Emma‘.

“When I got up there, I was like, ‘Thanks for the award, but just to clarify they aren’t friends. They’re actually together’.”

See the trailer for ‘Billie and Emma’ below:

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