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Putting faith in queer love

By Emil Hofileña Published Aug 20, 2021 6:00 am

It’s understandable to feel nervous when an already successful film decides to expand itself to the small screen. But for The Boy Foretold by the Stars, a film marketed as the first Filipino boys’ love (or BL) movie, the transition seems to be much more crucial.

Having won the 2nd Best Picture and Gender Sensitivity awards at the most recent Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), Dolly Dulu’s teen romance has become a high-profile success story in an industry that’s proven slow to pick up on more varied LGBTQIA+ portrayals. And with the immense popularity of several other Filipino BL shows, expectations are high for Boy Foretold’s sequel series to maintain its predecessor’s quality.

Thankfully, based on the first of six episodes of Love Beneath the Stars, returning writer-director Dulu doesn’t seem to be interested in simply replicating their film’s tried-and-tested formula. If anything, the series seems intent on taking the kinds of risks that the movie just didn’t have the space to pursue.

 Love Beneath the Stars is the follow-up to last year's award-winning The Boy Foretold by the Stars.

The first episode of Love Beneath the Stars, which aired on iWantTFC on Aug. 16, wisely avoids wasting time recapping the events of its predecessor — which is not to say that newcomers to this budding franchise will find themselves lost.

With the uncertainty of courtship resolved, high schoolers Dominic (played by Adrian Lindayag) and Luke (Keann Johnson) now have to deal with that stage of a relationship that isn’t explored as often in teen coming-of-age romances: the follow-through. There may have been a kiss between them to seal the deal, but under the pressure of being in an exclusive Catholic school in the Philippines, that high can’t last forever.

There’s perhaps nothing more interesting — nothing riskier, in fact — than how Boy Foretold and Love Beneath the Stars look at religious faith not only through an LGBTQ+ lens, but by comparing it to divination, destiny, and chance.

The choice to expand Boy Foretold in this way seems to have been a quick decision, with Dreamscape Entertainment (the series’ producers, together with Clever Minds Inc.) already reaching out to the film’s team after its MMFF premiere. But for Dulu, who has stayed with the project to make sure the story follows through, the journey has been, at times, challenging.

“It’s actually my first time writing a series. Medyo mas mahirap siya kumpara sa movie kasi para kang gumagawa ng isang pelikula every episode,” they explain. “Pero in terms of sa laman ng kwento, hindi ako nahirapan dahil kilalang-kilala ko na ‘yung characters.”

Adrian Lindayag (left) and Keann Johnson in “Love Beneath the Stars”

For Adrian Lindayag — himself a queer, femme actor doing excellent work as a gay, femme character — the movement from film to TV has only been a cause for celebration.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he says. “Matagal na nating hinihintay na makita ‘yung mga sarili natin sa pelikula, sa TV, na nai-in love. Matagal naman nang present ang mga LGBT sa pelikula at sa TV, pero parang hindi sila nabibigyan ng (romantic comedy), ng kilig story.”

But with the privilege of joining this recent spate of Filipino BL series comes the opportunity to push the genre in new directions. And there’s perhaps nothing more interesting — nothing riskier, in fact — than how Boy Foretold and Love Beneath the Stars look at religious faith not only through an LGBTQ+ lens, but by comparing it to divination, destiny, and chance.

Within our country’s conservative, often aggressive Christian tradition, God isn’t seen as random or subjective. But what Dulu’s story argues is that even devout Catholic Christians need to give their faith some room for interpretation toward what will make them more loving human beings.

In Love Beneath the Stars’ first episode, Baby R reminds Dominic and Luke that their tarot card readings are not meant to be taken as fact, but as a guide for their emotions and actions. The same should be true for how people read the Bible or listen to homilies during Mass. We should not be teaching our children scripture with the expectation that they will simply obey, but so they can form good values and bring them into their individual lives.

And even as this ongoing love story between Dominic and Luke criticizes the notoriously rigid and anti-LGBTQ customs of Catholic schools, there is still respect here for faith itself. After all, even before Dominic strikes up his relationship with Luke in Boy Foretold, he’s already an active volunteer at their school’s retreat program.

And when they do become involved with each other, much of the development of their romance is facilitated by the time they get to reflect and be vulnerable with their notions of God and love. This film and this series remind us to reexamine our systems of belief to make sure they’re actually making us behave better towards ourselves and one another.

Thankfully, this belief is shared not only by the characters on-screen but by the team behind the scenes as well. “Hindi question ‘yung pagiging bakla when it comes to religion. (They) can coexist,” says Dulu, who based Boy Foretold on their own experiences in Catholic school. “Paniniwala ko talaga na crineate tayo ng Panginoon the way we are now. We are created to be like this. I was created to be gay. Hindi naman Siya gagawa ng isang bagay na ikasasama natin.”

And for Lindayag, the character of Dominic has also come to represent his own personal journey of identity. He narrates how he experienced self-hatred while growing up in a conservative Catholic family, before learning more about faith and gender in college, becoming an atheist for a time, and then finally reconciling his sexuality with his personal spirituality.

What remains for him is, simply, truth and love. “Bakla ako e. May feminine side ako. And I also have a masculine side. And I embrace all those qualities about me. And I think ‘yung purpose ko is to live out my truth so that I can show other people na, sila din, they can live out their truth,” he says. “‘Yan ‘yung purpose mo sa mundo — it’s to spread love.”

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Love Beneath the Stars airs Mondays on iWantTFC.