"The Fabulous Filipino Brothers" by Christopher Shintani
"The Fabulous Filipino Brothers" by Christopher Shintani

After 35 years in Hollywood as an actor and producer, Dante Basco is making his directorial debut with The Fabulous Filipino Brothers. The film is set to make its worldwide premiere on March 16 at 4 PM CT at the virtual SXSW film festival. The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is centered around a Filipino wedding and tells the stories of four Filipino brothers through four vignettes. Basco stars in the film alongside his three brothers Derek, Darion, and Dion. It’s a family affair with appearances from their sister, parents, and other family members.

March 16 is a serendipitous date, Basco said. Twenty years ago on March 16, 2001, The Debut, the first Filipino American film released in theaters nationwide, which he also starred in, premiered at the Asian and Asian American film festival CAAMFest.

Basco is an important figure in the Asian American and Filipino American entertainment community, well known for his iconic role as Rufio in the 1991 film Hook and as Zuko in the 2005 animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although Asian Americans constitute 6% of the U.S. population, a 2016 report found that their representation as lead characters on screen and behind the camera is less than their share of the population. 

Long underrepresented in the film industry, the Asian American and Filipino American community’s visibility in Hollywood is something Basco is constantly working to elevate. Several years ago, he co-founded an Asian American arts collective that aimed to get creatives in the community create their own films outside of Hollywood. The collective has since come to an end, but Basco’s commitment to spotlighting Asian American stories remains. 

“I’m always a big supporter of all artists continuing to make more art and get it out there, especially the Asian community, especially Southeast Asian community,” Basco said. 

Basco called his directorial debut a love letter to his family and to the Filipino American community in his hometown of Pittsburgh, California, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area where most of the movie was filmed.

“For me, to shoot in the Philippines and reconnect to the homeland, the movie is special to me in a lot of ways,” he said.

The influence of Basco’s family is represented throughout the film. The brothers in the movie are named after his uncles, and one of the vignettes was based on his parents’ love story. He also created characters for his brothers that showcase their strengths as actors. Basco and his brother Darion wrote the original screenplay together, and were later joined by their siblings Dion and Arianna, who both rewrote certain parts of the film. Arianna, the youngest of the siblings, contributed to the development of the script by adding more depth and nuance to each female character. For the single pregnant character, she was able to draw from her experience as a single mother.

“A lot of what she says in her vignette about being pregnant and the judgments was very much trying to key into what that’s like and what that character would say; the things that I thought of during that time of pregnancy,” she said.

Arianna said working on the project with family was an emotional experience that reflected their journey of moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles in the ’80s where they were able to begin building their careers in entertainment. Part of that involved a seven-year period when she and her brothers did not speak to each other due to an industry-related feud.

“This film was such a marker of, there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “We can get through these tough times. And we can love each other and be vulnerable with each other … All of us taking our seat at the table, myself as a sister, a woman, being able to look at the script and being like, ‘Yo, we need to rework this.’ Everything kind of came full circle.”

Basco said his directorial debut comes at a meaningful time when the profile of Asian filmmakers in Hollywood is at its highest, particularly following the success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 and the acclaim that films like The Farewell, Parasite, and Minari have received. Yet many of those stories feature East Asian narratives, which Hollywood tends to highlight to represent Asian Americans. South and Southeast Asians are often absent. Even with Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess in Raya and the Last Dragon, the film’s voice cast is dominated by East Asian actors.

“But those stories don’t tell the whole story,” Basco said. “They’re not supposed to. But if we just leave it up to only those films being made, then it does.”

That’s why it’s important for Southeast Asian American filmmakers to continue creating films and putting their stories out there, he said. Some films that have come from the community in recent years include Filipino American filmmaker Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca, which tells the story of an undocumented Filipina trans caretaker in Brooklyn who is seeking legal status. Another is The Long Walk, a thriller by Laotian American director Mattie Do, who is Laos’ first and only female director.

Basco said he didn’t set out to make the definitive Filipino American film with The Fabulous Filipino Brothers—it represents his and his family’s experiences, which are just one story among many.

“All our voices are important, and I look forward to more stories being told, whether it be Filipino or Vietnamese or Cambodian or Chamorro. Even though we have so many, there’s so many more stories to be told out there,” he said.

For people who watch his film, Basco hopes they enjoy the project he and his family worked on together.

“I think there’s some fun stuff in the film. And I’m just so proud of my brothers and my sister,” he said. “I think they made some really wonderful performances and I can’t wait to share that with the world.”