Who We Become follows Jenah, Monica, and Lauren, three young Filipino women in Texas as they navigate a pandemic while forging unexpected connections with their families. GLAAD Media Award-nominated filmmaker PJ Raval (Call Her Ganda) paints a portrait in a very trying and eye-opening time in world history.
Described as a “self-documented time capsule for turbulent times” Who We Become screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific International Film Festival as well as Austin Asian American Film Festival before it was acquired by Ava DuVernay’s production banner ARRAY Releasing
“ARRAY takes great pride in releasing this new work by a filmmaker who we have long admired,” said Tilane Jones, President of ARRAY in a statement to press. “PJ Raval’s chronicling of both impact and access in the midst of two major global events is a necessary and noteworthy reflection on issues that are of vital importance.”
Raval talked to GLAAD and discussed how his docu interrogates a difficult time in history, but also captures a bond between Filipino family and community.
How did you go about choosing to spotlight Jenah, Monica, and Lauren?
When I set out to make this film, I was interested in finding some brave souls who were open to intimately sharing their daily lives impacted by the unforeseen events unfolding. I wanted to focus on the deep conversations with family, friends and other loved ones that were inspired by these unprecedented times where many were experiencing moments of transition, growth and self-reflection. I was also interested in how this generation younger than me was also using these everyday tools of communication, such as social media, to also tell their own stories and express their beliefs, concerns and hopes. Thankfully, I found each of these women who were not only interested but perhaps looked at this film as an opportunity to engage with their loved ones in a different way. I was excited to also explore new and perhaps more deeply collaborative ways of filmmaking which would give audiences a deeper and more intimate form of storytelling. I already knew Lauren and Monica both, and through my producer Cecilia R. Mejia I was introduced to Jenah. The three together felt like almost one life at different stages which revealed a lot about this moment.
This was shot during the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement, and the 2020 election. What were some of the challenges in telling these stories that take place in a recent history which includes triggering events?
All of the events mentioned are so momentous and clearly changed the course of our history, and in some cases revealed ignored and overlooked histories. These events were largely unfolding in our daily news cycles, but rarely did we hear stories of how these unforeseen events were affecting people in their everyday lives. Protests and public gatherings obviously became the most visible signs of people demanding change and moving towards what they hoped to be a more just and equitable world, but what about the smaller conversations at home and the important role they play as well?
When editing the film I often embraced the thought, “change begins with family”. The US often holds the narrative of the fractured dinner table divided by differences in generational views, varying perspectives and at times political beliefs and how we vote. So in setting out to make a film where we center these challenging conversations attempting to bridge these divides, I had to keep in mind the care of these protagonists and make sure they felt encouraged and supported to have these conversations and share these vulnerable moments with audiences.
I think a lot of the film is about love and love of family, love of friends and love of community. And this love is what allows each of these women to be both brave and vulnerable during these moments and trusting the other person cares for them equally which is how they work towards building a deeper relationship with more open and honest communication.
Lauren comes out as bisexual to her family early in the film. Did this catch you off guard? Why did you feel that this was important to include?
After spending some time feeling isolated and physically distant from her family, I think Lauren’s return home that weekend became an opportunity to reconnect. Her family entered a deeper sense of trust and appreciation of one another and that inspired a moment of honesty leading to Lauren sharing her truth.
I had known Lauren had a girlfriend but I did not know she hadn’t officially come out to her family until that moment — what a special moment to witness! Especially getting a chance to experience the family’s reaction of acceptance. This is part of what I love about making documentary films — it’s unfolding and unexpected and there are a lot of moving moments, surprises and discoveries along the way. What a privilege to have Lauren share that special moment with us. A real gift.
Your GLAAD Media Award-nominated Call Her Ganda speaks to injustice. Who We Become also speaks to injustice but also goes into intergenerational family relationships. What draws you to these stories about advocacy and impact?
A lot of us come from communities that continue to experience injustice and inequality in our everyday lives. These “hot button” issues politicians and pundits debate over in theoretical and hypothetical tones on the news are ones people such as myself live through and are very much affected by on a very personal level.
To put things into perspective, when I started making films, same-sex marriage was still illegal. Similarly, federal abortion rights was protected by Roe V Wade. Times change in many directions. I am dedicated to sharing stories from my own community and in the process of doing so I hope giving audiences these moments of lived experiences will help them understand these issues on a deeper and more meaningful level. These issues can be someone’s livelihood, someone’s ability to live an honest and authentic life protected by the law. Storytelling and filmmaking can be a powerful tool for empathy which can lead to allyship, solidarity, and social change. I am all for always supporting our world moving in the right direction, and if my films can contribute in a meaningful way to social progress, I will do everything I can to make that happen.
How do you hope Who We Become speaks to the LGBTQ community and fight for equality?
The film begins with the definition of a Tagalog word “kapwa” which loosely translates to togetherness. I always think of it as the unbreakable bond between those of Filipino descent whether they be separated by generations, language or even an ocean. We are bonded and familiar – community. In a way, I think that concept can extend to finding the humanity in each other and what bonds us together as individuals. The LGBTQ+ community has done an amazing job thinking about the diverse spectrum of gender and sexual expressions and identities and recognizing we need to support one another since we all have the same goal of living freely and authentically. But we have to also recognize that many of us hold multiple identities and that concept of community, that feeling of kapwa, needs to also extend into solidarity and allyship. And as one of Jenah’s closest friends, Rachel says in the film, “You can’t walk alongside someone, unless you know where you’re walking from.” So it is imperative for the LGBTQ+ community as they continue to fight for equality and equal rights to figure out how to walk alongside and in support of other marginalized communities that greatly overlap. LGBTQ+ rights affect everyone and should be supported by everyone. And likewise the fight for equal rights for other communities is a win for all including the LGBTQ community. I greatly believe there is strength in numbers and understanding each other’s unique and individual experiences is what ultimately will allow us to truly understand one another and bond us together in kapwa.
Who We Become debuts on Netflix on December 1.