Nora Villamayor, better known as Nora Aunor, began her life in the late 60s as a singer, singing songs of varied sources and initiating the resurgence of different vocal music. She knew hunger before her golden voice brought her to the attention of the nation.
Her journey from a young girl selling water in the train station to someone providing the wishes and hopes of the nation’s masses is no less than epic.
Nora Aunor would join TV and cinema with that entry, she would change our colonial perspective about physical beauty. She started in musicals and melodrama that served as escape for the many looking to her as inspiration. Soon, she would make films that subverted politics and politicize subversion. In her many films, she helped us escape from stereotypical women as she fleshed out the possibilities of Filipina womanhood.
Aunor would perform theater pieces proving the legitimacy of that genius. In plays and movies, she played characters that were current to the country’s crisis and concerns – migrant labor, rebels, and ambitious lovers.
Aunor’s acting styole would create a massive shift in the performance traditions that were already entrenched. She would change all that with her portrayal of characters that were marginalized but, with the strength and conviction of her skills, became central in the nation’s imagination.
For an ordinary person transformed into an extraordinary thespian whose legacy to the performing and media arts are the expressions of a magnificent face that can show triumphs and defeats, pains and joys all at the same time in a silence and subtlety that is as disturbing, as enduring and as endearing as the struggles of the nation.
The Gawad CCP para sa Sining (Film and Broadcast Arts) is given on this 17th of Septem,ber 2015 to Nora Villamayor.
By Tito Genova Valiente
Gawad CCP para sa Sining
Pages 70 -74
Poverty and politics are the birthright of Nora Villamayor, more popularly known as Nora Aunor. It does not matter really when she was born. That she was born very poor matters because, like in the many narratives of her films, she would rise from that squalor into a status that symbolizes and, at the same time, subverts social mobility in this nation. This is where politics enters into Aunor’s birth: her person will form an actor and an acting style that may not be always explicitly but are a subtle and succinct commentary on how power is used and misused in the societies of the republic.
In the summer of 2015, Aunor was honored with the honorary Nagueña Award. It is her fate that Aunor would alweays stand for something bigger than where she physically came from, the town of Iriga then.
Geography and genius would explain the influence of Nora Aunor on the cinema of the Philippines. Iriga was a small town when she joined the amateur contest in the city of Naga. That town is part of Rinconada, a term which means “corner.” In her career as an actor, Aunor would portray characters who were either outcasts or t the outskirt of social groups. By being born in a town that was at the periphery of a region that was also not mainstream in the thought of the dominant culture of this country, she would have in her spirit a marginalized that is beyond compare.
In her speech in Naga City in March of 2015, Aunor would share with the audience how they were so poor that they, as family, would take turns borrowing from the neighborhood store. Born to Antonia Cabaltera ans Eustaquio Villamayor on May 21, 1953, Aunor remembered a childhood not sad but extremely subsistent. She knew hunger before songs. She was the most patient of the siblings to wait on her father who worked as a stevedore in the train station. At the sound of the train whistling, her father, Aunor recalled, would wake up immediately because that sound meant work, and work meant food on the table.
Who would ever think that I, an ugly girl, would ever be an “artista”? Aunor asked will all candor that night. She would not ask the question that the critics would ask later: Who is this woman and why is she able to alter the cultural landscape of cinema in this land? That question was no question but a defiant answer to a query on art made relevant and new.
Nora Aunor would sing first and win a national singing competition: the respected Tawag ng Tanghalan. Gone was the girl who had to stretch out her neck to listen to the songs played over the radio of a neighbor. Gone was the girl who sang for food. On that stage, the wisp of a girl sang “Moonlight Becomes You”, defeating singers more educated and with more capital to fund a better dress. She looked at the sky only she could see with those searing eyes and sang to the moon and the night and the music.
In career that spans almost half a century and continues to this day, she has made more than 170 movies, numerous TV shows and concerts, three plays, and more than 50 music album. Her TV show Superstar was one of the longest running. The word Superstar would mean nothing without her. Her numerous vinyl albums would revitalize the Filipino music industry at a time when foreign artist dominated the recording scene. Her drama anthologies on television, like Makulay na Daigdig ni Nora, served as a spawning if not training ground for directors who would become master filmmakers.
Then there was the film industry beckoning her, machinery that was built on actors and actresses that had the Caucasian features, the so-called mestizos and mestizas whose images resembled Hollywood celebrities. And yet, she would conquer this terrain and win over to her side a newly formed critics’ group called Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. In 1976, she won the first Gawad Urian for Best Actress, a star and a thespian vanquishing those who ever doubted her. The film was Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, where she played lead but thematically a villain. She was not only an actor in the film; she was also the producer.
She would produce more and act in the films she funded: Bona would join other films as the best in the world, to cite one example. She would portray Elsa, a reluctant faith healer, in Himala, a film that would be declares the best in Asia by CNN-Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2008. The role has been lauded by film scholars attributing the mystique of the performance to the fact that Aunor’s fandom parallels the fanaticism and faith of people. Iconic is perhaps the most abused term writers can give to a celebrity but in Himala, Aunor was Elsa becomes the icon around which doubt and belief circumnavigated, in which religion becomes not a refuge but a refutation. One can safely say that if an actor can give a hundred shades of black and white, a magnificent canvas of chiaroscuro describes Aunor’s Elsa – timid, manipulative, victim, aggressor, confronting and retreating, in sorrow or in joy – an art to behold and trial to witness by those who believe that cinema is not merely images on the flickering silver screen.
Nora Aunor would win awards in several continents. The label “Superstar” is never ridiculous when attached to her name. Lately, she is being called “The Grand Dame of Philippine Movies”’ indicating not her age but her wisdom, not really her longevity but the amazing perpetuity of the acting acumen that has brought forth women whose decisions about loyalty and love, self and nationalism have been questioned. In Aunor, these women responded back.
Formidable are the characters that Aunor has fleshed out through many decades. She slept with the enemy in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos and lived in the home of the enemy she planned to kill in Bakit May Kahapon Pa?. She lived in Merika and made us think of those decisions to stay in a foreign land all for economic survival; she offered us the terrible options to go to America even if some soldiers of that land could mistake our brothers for pigs in Mina’y Isang Ganu-Gamo. She looked at the eye of the storm in Taklub and only saw our sense of self; she collected umbilical in Thy Womb because she could not produce one herself. She, in fact, played mothers and lovers whose duplicity enabled us to gaze not at morality but at the complexity of humanity.
She has won all the acting awards. She has been elevated to the many Halls of fame. The world has seen her, and bestowed the accolade on her because she holds the oar and she freely navigates the sea of humanity, ferrying us from shores of ignorance to some afterlife of knowledge through a genius in performance that could only come from poverty, politics and geography – the schools of acting that have given her the boon to share with the many who believe in her.