by Kenneth John Luna
“This is not just a thesis requirement, this is for the Filipino people.”
The moment she uttered the reason why she came up with a study on the famous Filipina superhero Darna, I know for a fact that it will be an interesting conversation. It was 7 pm on the evening of January 21 when I finally had the chance to speak with Rhea Ramos- Indon. Grateful to have been given the opportunity to talk about her journey in coming up with a study for the program Master of Arts in Communication at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. The study entitled, “Darna: A Feminist Analysis on the Media Construction of a Filipina Superhero Body in Four Decades of Selected Darna Films” took almost three years to finish. Years of sleepless nights, juggling a thesis and a full-time job at ABS-CBN is no joke. She mentioned that it was no walk in the park at all, working to earn a living and at the same time, attend to the requirements of her master's degree. They were seven in their batch who enrolled for Master of Arts in Film, but little by little, each semester, her batchmates did not survive the workload it requires.
When asked how she managed to get through it all -- “I want to become a good storyteller. I know in my mind that there’s a deeper meaning in everything that we do.”
Looking back, Rhea couldn’t help but laugh at the struggles she had to face just to finish her study on Darna. There were days that she had to keep on going back to consult her professors because the topics were overhauled. But her immense determination pushed her to her limits, that the story of Darna has to be etched in the book of history.
The iconic Filipina superhero, Darna, is a work of art. Thanks to Mars Ravelo, his brilliance transpired from comics to truly remarkable films. There have been several installments with Vilma Santos, Anjanette Abayari, Nanette Medved, Rio Locsin among other top-billed actresses who starred in the film Darna.
Darna has set the pattern for the ideal female in the context of Filipino society. From a simple woman, she turns into a heroine whenever she swallows a mystical white stone, which allows her to transform from an ordinary woman to a powerful one. Her superpowers include superhuman strength, intellect, speed, and flight.
Through time, Darna has been a great representation of a heroine fighting against social imbalances. The films mirrored different issues concerning the generation on the specific period of time when it was released. There was a time when the villains were the goons of the society because there was a whopping rise in kidnappers. Meanwhile, in 1994, the issues revolved around the environmental crisis since that was the time of the Mount Pinatubo eruption, and illegal mining was prevalent. Moreover, what really sets Darna apart from other films is its powerful perspective towards women-- that they are strong and capable.
For Rhea, there is Darna within every woman. All they need to do is empower themselves and unleash their strengths.
“Darna is an inspiration for women, to better themselves. That no matter what life throws at them, they’d always find a way to survive and fight what society dictates them to be. We dare to be different and prove that we are powerful in our own rights,” she added.
It may have taken years for her to finish a study on Darna but she fondly recalls that it was all worth it. She is in awe to have played a pivotal role in understanding the character and image of the famous Filipina superhero, and present how Darna filmmakers used the audience within the narrative to illustrate Darna as a socially and morally powerful woman.
Rhea hopes that the younger filmmakers of today will continue the tradition of excellence in storytelling and transform every film dream into reality.
After almost an hour of exchanging thoughts, I finally had the guts to ask her a million-dollar question. Who is your personal Darna? She eagerly responded, “It is my mother and my sisters. My life and inspiration.”
Rhea’s journey towards finishing her study was not easy at all, but it has proven that she is also a Darna, just like any other woman in this world.