Community, Stories

Chinoy playwright and novelist Ricky Lee lauded as 2022 National Artist

It is truly a time to celebrate for the Chinoy community as fellow Chinese-Filipino Ricky Lee is lauded as one of the country’s National Artists.

Last Friday, June 10, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) together with Malacanang, announced the new set of National Artists through Proclamation 1390. This is a prestigious acknowledgement of the formidable figures in Filipino arts and culture and Ricky Lee is among the select few who have proven themselves worthy of the esteemed recognition.

Lee is a genius of Philippine cinema, having written over 100 Filipino films in a span of 40 years. Among his most famous screenplays are “Brutal”,“Himala”,“Karnal” and “Muro-ami”. He is also an accomplished writer and is the brains behind the novels “Para Kay B,” and “Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata”.

Lee was raised by his Chinese relatives after his mother died when he was only five years old and abandoned by his father because of the inability to support him. Despite a difficult childhood, Lee pursued his passions.

Being orphaned, he was introduced to the world of literature and writing. Having felt that ‘aloneness,’ he resorted to reading books as a way to escape reality and keep himself company. Reading novel after novel, according to Lee, allowed him to ‘pave the way to create my own stories.”

What jumpstarted his career in writing was a typewritten fiction story that he sold to the Filipino Free Press. He continued to write short stories but he knew that it would not be enough to pay the bills, hence, he undertook all kinds of work from being a waiter, a salesman, and an accounting clerk.

As a Chinoy, he also honored his Chinese heritage by writing the screenplay of films that introduced the Chinoy in a different light– one that transcends racist and stereotypical boundaries. In the film “Dragnet”, he said that “It was one of the few films where the portrayal of Chinese wasn’t stereotypical, funny, a bad guy, a rapist or a syndicate leader. He was more involved in a progressive way in Philippine society,”.

With this, there is without a doubt that Lee is able to use his storytelling to forward much greater causes: among them to show that Chinoys can go beyond what is expected of them and offer so much more to the country.

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