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Martin Foreman

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Macho dancer


April 2008: It's twenty years since this ground-breaking film was released in the Philippines. The story of Paul, a youth from the sticks who heads to Manila to make a living as go-go dancer and prostitute, its explicit scenes - including a full-frontal of young men competing in a masturbation competition - led it to be heavily censored. Despite the controversy, however, the film won two awards in the Philippines. It also received high praise from in the North American press. Respected Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas is quoted as nominating it one of his ten best films of the year.

Well, maybe. My eyes were certainly glued to the screen by the long sequences in which one, two or more cute young men rubbed up against each other near-naked (that
full-frontal is the exception rather than the rule). It was only in the second half of the film that both a plot and a serious social message appear. Paul's best friend, Noel, another sex worker, is hunting for his seventeen-year-old sister who he believes has been sold into prostitution in the sprawling metropolis. They find her, to discover she has been beaten and the brothel where she works is owned by a policeman...

I'll let you guess whether the sister gets rescued and what consequences ensue for Paul and Noel. I'm more interested in pointing out the differences the film makes between male and female prostitution. Both are shown to be rife in the Philippines (my sources suggest that they continue to be widely available today). But while female sex workers are depicted as victims, duped and beaten into their trade, their male counterparts enter it voluntarily. The young men are poor and live in slums and they are subject to the whims of their pimps and occasionally clients, but they can at any point in their lives walk away and return to the deeper poverty from which they come.

Does that mean it is still a choice? I think of the many young men I know in Thailand who are all from impoverished backgrounds. Some sell their bodies, others do not. Those who sell themselves soon sort themselves out. Those who find it distasteful and disturbing soon leave, preferring a poorly paid job to the instant, if short-lived riches of sex work. The rest stay on, enjoying the money, the relative freedom it offers and the opportunities to make friends and meet a wide range of people.

Macho Dancer hints at the conflict that many young men, particularly those who are not gay, face, when they take up sex work. My next goal is to see Midnight Dancers, the 1995 film, which, many people say, is a copy of the earlier film. I'll let you know as soon as I do.


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