Toto portrays the life of Antonio “Toto,” who is struggling to find a way to get to America in order to help his family, especially his brother and sister, by sending them money. Toto also portrays life as a Filipino and life in the Philippines in an accurate manner. Although the film does have some stereotypes—such as the Filipino accent and its issue with “P” and “F,” and the medical field stereotype where the typical Filipino is a caregiver, or wants to be a “narse” (nurse) or anything in the medical field—there is some truth to it. Toto’s determination to get to America in order to help his family is really relatable because this represents the mindset of many Filipino immigrants, or immigrants in general. Especially since my parents and I are from the Philippines, who immigrated to Hawaii, I found the film to be relatable because of that personal connection I saw.
Since Toto is a drama and comedy, it succeeds in making its audience both empathize and laugh in the theater. During a funeral scene for Toto’s mother, the marching band, instead of playing a funerary song, plays the song “Macarena,” a recurring song that shows up in the film, which adds a comedic, lighthearted atmosphere to a moment where grief happens. The film excels at mixing the two genres together, as well as mixing seriousness and lightheartedness together. Toto also uses Filipino teleseryes as a way to make fun of a lot of the clichés within mainstream Filipino television. Watching the scenes that depicted these teleserye parodies, my friend and I found ourselves laughing at how funny and over-dramatic these scenes were. It was beautiful.
Another important aspect that is portrayed in the film is the film’s normalization of homosexuality and sexual fluidity through characters such as Yam, Toto’s gay relative, Yam’s brother Ferdie, who partakes in homosexual acts to make money (“gay for pay”), and David Yeltsin, who is an American and is also gay. The most notable scene that pertains to the normalization of homosexuality is the scene where Toto and David are at the gay bar where his cousin Ferdie works. David questions Toto, asking him why he cared so much about whether someone was gay or not. Toto responds by saying, “It’s the culture,” which shows that in Filipino culture, there is still hostility to those who are homosexual, to those who are seen and called bakla and bading (both terms referring to homosexual men). That specific scene challenges the hegemonic idea that homosexuality is a deviant, that people who are homosexual are different. In the film, it doesn’t matter what each character’s sexuality was, or what each character did—it was very liberating.
After watching the film, my friend Sani and I got to meet some of the cast, and we expressed our love for the movie. Toto was absolutely amazing and it has got to be one of my most favorite Filipino films because of the fact that it’s not as cliché as a lot of mainstream Filipino media, and because of the fact that it’s relatable to me and a lot of people.