Can Lapu-Lapu In “1521” Draw A Crowd Like Olivia Rodrigo?

by Emil Guillermo

Are you ready to kill the colonizer?

You can on Oct. 2 from just about any AMC theater in the country.

If you’re Asian American of any stripe, but especially Filipino, you can get the thrill of seeing a Hollywood movie that gets it right.

One with the narrative where we win. And the colonizer loses.

Take your sabres to any AMC for one day only in October, Monday night, Oct. 2, to watch the movie, “1521.”

It’s the film where Lapu-Lapu, the fearless Filipino leader and not the fish, triumphs over the Portuguese circumnavigator who sailed for Spain, Ferdinand Magellan.

The movie comes courtesy of producer Francis B. Lara-Ho, who met me in New York just hours before a special “1521” billboard appeared for 24 hours in Times Square.

Seeing a splashy ad was almost but not quite like seeing the film itself. Still, the quick message to the throngs of people who visit Times Square on a weekend was gratifying for the film producer.

“It’s a vindication and an affirmation of our mission to let the world know about the Filipino’s greatness and heroism,” said Lara-Ho, a Chinese Filipino who went from humble beginnings in the Philippines to immigrate to the U.S., where he was able to achieve his dream of leading the multi-million dollar Hollywood movie project.

“People come to Times Square from all over the world, and now they can see who we are. We are people of honor and class. We are not barbarians. That was our main mission.”

“1521” stars Danny Trejo, the character actor often seen in movies as an ornery hard-edged Latino bad guy. There’s a Filipino American actor named Michael Copon, who plays Lapu- Lapu. There’s also a key love story mixed in it all. But the headline is that Trejo, as the colonizer Magellan, gets it in the end.

But how? And by whom exactly? The important details of Magellan’s demise are explored in the film. Was it really at the hands of Lapu-Lapu? His warriors? Was Magellan beheaded?

And then there’s the overall narrative that needs correcting, the existing one that portrays Magellan as discovering the Philippines for Spain.

“We weren’t savages hanging on trees,” said Lara-Ho who added that the Philippines was a highly civilized society with an honor code. And it had women in positions of similar or equal power to men.

They were ready to fight off Magellan, who arrived with boats, guns, and manpower.

“We had valor and bravery because we were fighting for our survival, our freedom,” said Lara-Ho, “while [Magellan and Spain] were fighting for their economic interest.”

That underdog spirit of Filipinos in the film is imbued in the entire project. Made in record time, “1521” cost a fraction of a typical Hollywood movie, and nowhere near the “Barbie” movie’s $145 million budget, according to Lara-Ho.

The film has recently been enhanced and trimmed down to about 90 minutes from an original two hour-plus run time. And now Lara-Ho feels confident “1521” is ready for a nationwide distributor.

But first comes the test.

He’s got to prove that people want to see it. And that’s the significance of the nationwide showing at AMC theaters.

It’s just one day, Monday, Oct. 2, at 7 pm local time.

The numbers swirl in Lara-Ho’s head. If just ten percent of four million Filipinos in the country show up, that would be 400,000. That would help prove there is a national audience for a film like “1521.”

More realistically, even a one percent turnout, 40,000, on a one-day screening, would show a significant demand.

And what if just a handful of the other 22 million or so Asian Americans who know about colonization respond?

Indians, Pakistanis, and other South Asians dealt with the British. So did the Hong Kongers, the Singaporeans, the Malay, and the Burmese. Vietnamese had the French.

Wouldn’t that be something if several of us joined in to see the Filipinos give it to Magellan?

It would prove to Hollywood that our stories, and our histories really matter. And that many of us want to see them depicted. Now.

I admit to being amok envious of Olivia Rodrigo
If you’re a Filipino American artist, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pull in a crowd like pop star Olivia Rodrigo?

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center to see her on the TODAY show plaza last week.

But on TV, she showed us all that her star keeps rising with no sign of letting up. Throngs of fans came to New York City to see her debut her new album “GUTS.” (The song “Vampire” is a great pop song.)

Rodrigo is a storyteller with words and music, telling tales of teenage angst that attract millions of listeners worldwide. As she sang from the plaza, her fans mouthed each lyric as if gospel.

Audiences don’t exactly mouth the words to my show as I say them. “Emil Amok” is more spontaneous and subject to change.

But Rodrigo’s fans show us how our stories­–Filipino, Filipino American, Asian American–can be both unique and universal.

When we hit that sweet spot and strike a nerve, there’s a larger audience than anyone thinks for the stories we must tell.

Find the theater near you with a showing of “1521” on Oct. 2, at 7pm (local) or

Watch the movie trailer here:

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator who has worked as host of “All Things Considered,” in Washington, and was an editorial writer for the Honolulu Advertiser and a columnist for the Star-Bulletin.

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