PGTW: UP honors La Aunor

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 28 August 2014, Thursday

UP honors La Aunor

Though she may not have received the National Artist award from a government that chose to focus on her personal life rather than her body of work, Nora Aunor continues to harvest accolades from the community of artists and academics.

I do not use the word ‘harvest’ unthinkingly; she only reaps what she has sown over five decades of impressive work in film, stage, and television.

Aunor’s latest recognition is the Gawad Plaridel, the highest award given by the University of the Philippines to “outstanding Filipino media practitioners who have performed with the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service,” according to an information release.

She received the honor yesterday in a ceremony at the UP Film Institute Film Center’s Cine Adarna.

Aunor has been bestowed with 52 Philippine film and TV industry awards from 1968 to 2012 for her work as a film, TV, and stage actor, recording artist, producer, and director.

She is the first Filipino to win the Bisato d’Oro Best Actress Award from the Premio della Critica Independiente during the 69th Venice International Film Festival Main Competition Section for her work in “Thy Womb” (2012).

As the tenth recipient of the Gawad Plaridel, which was established by the UP College of Mass Communication, Aunor was given a trophy designed by National Artist Napoleon Abueva.

The past recipients of the Gawad Plaridel are Eugenia Duran-Apostol (2004, print), Vilma Santos (2005, film), Fidela “Tiya Dely” Magpayo (2006, radio), Cecilia “Cheche” L. Lazaro (2007, television), Pachico A. Seares (2008, community print), Kidlat Tahimik (2009, independent filmmaking), Eloisa “Lola Sela” Canlas (2011, radio), Florence “Rosa Rosal” Danon-Gayda (2012, television) and Jose “Pete” Lacaba (2013, print).

The award, and CMC’s main hall, are named after the College’s “patron saint,” Marcelo H. del Pilar. A lawyer and a writer, he used the pen name “Plaridel” as the editor of the reformist newspaper La Solidaridad during the 1890s.

Each Gawad Plaridel awardee must, according to CMC, “believe in a vision of a Philippine society that is egalitarian, participative, and progressive, and in media that is socially responsible, critical and vigilant, liberative and transformative, and free and independent.”

Aunor embodies these values in her career. She was among the few performers of her time not in the usual mold of the Spanish or American mestizo beauty; her dark skin, average Malay features, and short stature made her relatable to the majority of their audiences, who saw themselves in the simple water-seller from the province who soared to showbiz stardom based on her formidable talent and not her looks.

While the best that other non-mestizo actors could hope for were roles as sidekicks, comic foils, or contravidas, after she came along, she turned the game around and shifted the attention on quality of work rather than outward appearance.

While she has received her share of brickbats, mostly for her personal life and political leanings, hardly any are flung in the direction of Aunor’s work, which is considered iconic, even legendary.

It is difficult to imagine anyone else portraying with as much passion and sincerity the role of the visionary Elsa in “Himala” (1982), considered by many critics to be the finest performance of her career so far.

To be sure, like anyone else starting out in Philippine films, as a teenager she sang and danced in bubblegum movies and was partnered with another young star in the obligatory love tandem of ‘60s showbiz. But unlike many other young stars of the era, her singing voice was the genuine article.

As she matured as a person and as an actress, Aunor brought a multi-layered complexity to her performances in the dramatic films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As the years passed, her skill and sensitivity only increased. One merely has to look at her filmography of nearly 200 movies to realize the high degree of her talent and versatility that few possess. Her achievements are nearly impossible to surpass.

Many were outraged by her rebuff in the National Artist award tilts this year over reasons not related to her work. The decision, made by those currently in political power, was viewed as unjust and short-sighted, coming from a moralistic viewpoint that has no bearing in the diverse and all-embracing field of the arts.

Until a more discerning leadership comes along, Aunor may display the Gawad Plaridel on her mantel secure in the knowledge that there are Filipinos who appreciate and recognize her valuable contributions to Philippine cinema and culture. ***

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