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‘Easter Sunday’ a gateway to more Fil Am stories on the big screen

An essay by Daly City Councilwoman and former mayor Juslyn Manalo

On July 22, 2022, I gave the ceremonial Key to the City from Daly City to Jo Koy.  As the first elected Filipino American woman on the Council and Filipina Mayor, I was beaming with pride to do so on behalf of the Mayor. Some may wonder why? Well, Daly City at one point had the most Filipinos in a mid-size City in the contiguous United States, with the 34% of the current population of Daly City having Filipino ancestry.

As a Daly City resident since 1988, I was elated to hear that writer Ken Cheng pitched the idea of having the story set in Daly City.  Jo Koy was open to merging both their stories into one film. Daly City’s AAPI population is 60% from the last count with the census. 

Jo Koy broke a huge barrier with Steven Spielberg producing & Universal Studios distributing Easter Sunday. The hope is that with that door open, Easter Sunday would one of the firsts with more films down the pipeline.

In 2021, when I was Mayor, the production team and director Jay Chandrasekhar were in Daly City filming background shots. They Facetimed Jo so we can connect. Right on the spot, Jo Koy was so excited and shared how Steven Spielberg is backing and producing and how Daly City is a part of it. Jo’s energy was kinetic and authentic; right there, I knew something big was about to happen. 

Jo Koy FaceTimes Juslyn Manalo // Photo courtesy of Juslyn Manalo

Jo Koy’s message was direct in his struggle in the industry that had constantly said no and the constant battle with institutionalized racism at the first public pre-screening was in Daly City Century 20. He mentioned his mother did not see anyone like her when she came to America in the late 1960’s. It is 2022, and finally, there’s that change. He advocated strongly, with persistence, and now teens to elders can enjoy a movie that has cultural references on the big screen.

My mother Josie (75 years old) who came to the United States in 1972 watched the film and said, “It was so good to laugh and de-stress.” She too saw a reflection of herself in Easter Sunday. It was probably her making so much food for everyone and her specialty empanadas that struck a chord. 

Not only Filipinos will resonate with this movie, as the central theme is about family, and that is universal. Although there we some scenes with no Daly City fog and bouts of sunshine, seeing a full cast of Filipino-Americans outshined those minor details. The B-roll with the train against the white fog hit home as the house I grew up in was literally across from Daly City Bart. 

Jo Koy’s message “keep the doors open and make sure it doesn’t close behind us” resonates so much with me because even though I am the first Pinay/Filipina Mayor, I will make sure I am not the last. In the Filipino culture, two words remind me of this moment on the Hollywood screen seeing all the legendary actors from Tia Carrera and Lou Diamond Phillips to emerging Daly City’s own Joey Guila and  Yellow Rose’s Eva Noblezada. “Bayanihan” means the spirit of communal unity and “Kapwa” the obligation we have towards fellow human beings. Giving Jo Koy the Key to the City meant gratitude for opening the doors for more representation.

Along those same lines together with the Arts & Culture Commission of Daly City with GoldHouse, and community-based organizations are working on free screenings for under-served youth and older adults. Lastly, given the increase of Anti-Asian sentiment and the actions to stop AAPI Hate, Easter Sunday reinforces that AAPI’s have been here for centuries and are part of the fabric of this nation-it is way overdue to have more of AAPI stories reflected on screen. Cheers to Jo Koy for pushing against the odds, because now the door is open even wider for the AAPI community. 

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