Roselle Monteverde: On Telling Chinoy Stories and Breaking Stereotypes

Regal Entertainment is one of the most well-known production companies in the Philippines, and unbeknownst to some, it’s actually run by a woman, a mother, and a Chinoy. Roselle Monteverde is currently the COO and Vice President of Regal Entertainment, Inc., which is no easy feat, as she is in charge of overseeing the daily operations and the overall creative direction of the company. Although she is the boss now, Regal Entertainment was founded by her mother, the legendary Mother Lily, and Roselle shares the story of how she eventually came to follow her mother’s footsteps. 


Lessons from childhood

Since her mother was part of the movie industry, you would expect that Monteverde would have a glamorous and extraordinary life growing up, but she actually had a fairly average childhood. She went to a rigorous Chinese school, which took up almost 6 days of her week. When she wasn’t busy with school work, she was doing extracurricular activities on weekends and during summer break, like a typical Chinoy.


Despite how demanding running a production company must be, Monteverde’s mother was still a prominent figure in her children’s lives. “Mother is a disciplinarian. When she wasn’t working, she would be working with us, kids. She made sure that we did our chores in the house. She made sure we finished our homework. And she would put us into little classes on the weekend you’re not doing anything, you go take up dance class. You go take up Hawaiian. You go take up jazz,” Monteverde shares.


“So we’ve been coping [with] this since we were kids. So maybe right now because of what she instilled in us that time is very precious, that is the reason why for us, every time that we work, we make sure we look at our watches and make sure that we’re always accomplishing something.”


Monteverde’s life was rooted in routine, and at some point, she started to feel like she was missing out on something. She got the idea of studying abroad to be a more independent person. “When I was growing up, there were yayas and even maids or even my mom, who would hound us [on] how to prepare for [the] following day, check on your homework. She would always remind me [of] so many things or tasks to finish during that time.”


“But going abroad really [helped me grow] as a person. I grew to be more independent. I was able to decide things on my own. If I do make mistakes, it was because of me and no one else to blame. So because of these experiences, it made me a better person,” Monteverde adds.


How she became interested in Regal Entertainment

Most kids usually have different reactions to their parents’ professions: they either want nothing to do with it or follow their parents’ footsteps, and for Monteverde, it was the latter. “My mom is a working mom, so she was managing Regal Entertainment Inc. from the house. So, because of that, parang namulat yung senses namin towards what she was doing. And of course, it gets so interesting when you meet different people from the media, especially actors.”


“I will admit I am also a fan of actors. I mean my sister and I would [buy] those fan magazines. We would read them weekly kung ano mga bagong chismis. At first, what’s so nice was mismo those people writing, those columnists [would] go to our house. So that’s how my interest sparked during the time,” Moteverde says.


Aside from being exposed to her work, Monteverde’s mother would often talk about the humble beginnings of Regal Entertainment. “Regal Entertainment started [as] importation of foreign movies because my grandfather opened up a cinema in Manila, and they need content to be shown in the cinema, so they started buying content [from] abroad.”


“My mom was the one who actually had the idea of producing locally. It all started in 1976, but before producing locally she was working in the theater. She was supplying food in the snack bar, so she grew a liking for production, movie production because she says she’s always been a movie fan.”


“She always tells us that because of her passion, she would even skip school to watch shooting in Quezon City, where Sampaguita Studios used to be. So because of that it really inspired her more to be into productions. And you know she’d always say: ‘I really wanted to be an actress but I don’t have the looks, so I might as well produce movies and be around beautiful people,’” Moteverde shares.


Sharing Chinoy culture through Mano Po

When Monteverde became more involved in Regal Entertainment, she reveals that her mother was the one who brought up the idea to her. “Mano Po is something that we adapted as Chinoy from Filipino culture. So when my mom broached me with the idea of: ‘Why don’t we do a Filipino-Chinese movie?’”


“And I said really? I’m not sure because I really don’t know whether the Chinese community would like to go to the cinema and watch that, even the Filipino community would like to go to the cinema and watch that. But of course, what mother wants mother gets,” Monteverde states.


The first Mano Po movie was based on the story of her own grandparents. It was about how her grandfather migrated from China and married a half-Filipina and about how her grandmother was then discriminated in China because of her race. There were some fictional elements included in the story, but they made sure to pay homage to Chinoy culture in the film. It ended up being a roaring success in both the Chinoy and the Filipino community, and as a result, they were able to make more Mano Po films and share more stories about the Chinoy community. Due to contractual obligations, most of the characters in Mano Po were played by Filipino actors who learned the Fukien language, but moving forward, Monteverde says she would like to include more Chinoys in the filmmaking process.


“To think of a future for Mano Po, there were ideas that we would audition real Chinoys to play the part to give voices, the real voices of real Chinoys. In a way, they will feel the part [or] the character because it’s closer to who they are.” 


“Even the writing, because I would rather have a Chinoy write the story of Mano Po because it’s going to be more authentic, not dictated. And the collaboration between what they really feel right now as a Chinoy, young generation Chinoys will be better seen in the future Mano Po.”


“Actually, it’s very important for me to be empowering.Chinoys in the media industry. It’s a different type of voice, especially with the young generation. It’s a different type of vision already with a young generation,” Monteverde states.


The struggles of being a woman in the film industry

Monteverde says she has worked with many types of people in the industry, of different genders and sexuality, and she is pleased to note that there are more women who are becoming cinematographers and directors. However, she also notes that it’s particularly more difficult for women to be part of the film industry. 


“The only struggle that women have is they tend to split their time. Of course as a mother to their children, sometimes that’s what limits them [from] getting into the industry because this industry requires long hours especially during productions. But I’m happy because most of the women I work with, I give them liberty if they have a problem with their kids because I myself as a mother I also tend to my kids, so what matters most is not really the time they [spend] in the company, but the productivity they deliver to the company,” Monteverde says. 


Monteverde also expressed her dismay about how Chinoy women are usually stereotyped as housewives. While she acknowledges that being a housewife is also difficult, she believes that women can be career-oriented and still take care of their children. She and her mother are testaments to that fact. 


“Nacocompromise kasi dreams [nila,] why they went to college or even to Masters? And then won’t be able to apply it. So, I would encourage women while they’re young… don’t be afraid, don’t be typecast as just a plain housewife because you would see that a lot of leaders now are also women. And how they balance family and work. You have to learn that because actually you can balance family and work,” Monteverde advises.


On the  choices of the younger generation

As for her children, Monteverde says she always tries to understand what her kids want. Even though Monteverde herself followed her mother’s footsteps, she says that it was her own choice and not strictly a matter of her mother pushing her to inherit the family business.


“So with my kids it’s a two-way communication, because the more that you pressure them on what you want them to do instead of what they want to do, the more disheartening for them. And the more frustrating for me as a mom because, what if they fail in what you want? Do you want to be the one [at] fault [for] their failure?”


“Funny thing is, my mom never dictated what we wanted to do. It was more of us wanting to be  like her, maybe because she was such an icon for us, for me, especially me because I’m her daughter, and if she can do it, why not?”


“I would say for those who are starting to have their kids coming to the family business, it’s really important to give them the voice. To give them the chance to speak up because I think that’s the reason why you placed them in school, right? It’s not for yourself. It’s also for growth. If you want the family business to grow, it really has to be the input of the more experienced one, and the input of the one who has an idea that might work, a new idea that can work.”


“The modern Chinoy now, I see the younger generation have more voice, which is good. They are able to pick what they want to do, and if they feel like they need further studies, they would study. I mean I would see that with my kids. I don’t force them to be part of this business because a company can [still] grow even though you don’t pass it on to your offspring,” Monteverde points out.

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