President Ferdinand Marcos with Imelda Marcos campaigning in Manila, Philippines, February 1, 1986.

What To Watch for the Real Story Behind ‘Here Lies Love’

What’s wrong with a production penned by the former frontman of The Talking Heads with a great all-Filipino cast? Unfortunately, kind of a lot.

Recommended Videos

Among the cast is Lea Salonga, the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award. The show has a catchy beat, a stage that captures the decadence of 1970s Philippines, and a moving plot. There shouldn’t be fault in that, but there is a big one that many audiences might not be aware of.

The protagonist of Here Lies Love wasn’t just a small-town girl with big dreams and hearts in her eyes. She was, in many respects, a corrupt and power-hungry woman with more bones than shoes in her closet. If anybody has fallen in love with Imelda Marcos in this play, she’s succeeded in warping their perception of her yet again.

Here Lies Love follows Imelda Romualdez, who hails from a lower-class family in rural Leyte Province. She sang of one day experiencing the life of an elite person in the country, which is characterized by a life of beauty and excess. She met Ninoy Aquino, whom she had a relationship with briefly before parting ways because of his desire to pursue politics. Owing to her beauty, Imelda wins The Rose of Tacloban and moves to Manila where she meets her future husband, Senator Ferdinand Marcos.

After a whirlwind courtship, the two tie the knot and become unstoppable. She aides Marcos in his presidential bid, and when he wins the seat, she proceeds to throw lavish parties at the expense of public welfare. Marcos and Imelda also spearhead many construction projects, even amidst social unrest and disregard for the public.

But make no mistake, the playwrights didn’t write her off as conscious of any malice. Even after the Manila Film Center disaster, Imelda, in this portrayal, appears to be a girl who was just strung along the journey of powerful men and got just what she wanted from the start: to be part of the elite.

This is what I have trouble with. I don’t care that a white man wrote this play, but I do care about the portrayal of the protagonist and the missing puzzle pieces that further shape her character. For anybody who hasn’t studied Philippine history, there will be very little context to go by with Imelda Marcos and her active role as a key political figure in her husband’s regime.

To the credit of Here Lies Love, they did at least portray Imelda taking over Ferdinand’s leadership when his health was worsening. However, the severity of her role in Ferdinand’s regime wasn’t fully portrayed. I find that particularly troubling because any non-Filipino person, without access to our history, might see Imelda as a Marie Antoinette who was just a young girl swept into the game of kings and succession.

She wasn’t naive; this is a woman who expressed the desire “to be a mother to the Philippines” among other grand declarations. Whether she masterminded her way into politics through her husband is unknown, but it takes a lot of endurance to be in politics decades after the revolution that ousted her family and exiled them to Hawaii. To stay in power, and to cultivate power by grooming her son Bongbong Marcos to be the 17th President of the Philippines, clearly illustrates her political acumen and cunning nature.

That’s not to overlook her outright corruption and crimes against Filipinos. Many Filipinos would recall the haunting Manila Film Center incident. It buried 169 workers alive in quick-drying cement because Imelda demanded the Manila Film Center’s construction be rushed. What she wanted, she got, even if that “beautification” of the country she desired displaced people for a zoo.

If you must watch Here Lies Love, then I ask you to watch The Kingmaker by Lauren Greenfield. It’s a documentary that gives many a glimpse into who Imelda Marcos is, and the views surrounding her by activists and victims of her crimes. Here Lies Love isn’t a terrible play, but it leaves out a lot of necessary context for its message to be understood.

Perhaps Imelda was right when she said, “Perception is real, truth is not.” But beyond the flashing disco balls and her glittering jewelry are the grim consequences of her conjugal dictatorship with Ferdinand that scarred the Philippine’s psyche. The People Power Revolution did not end with the guillotine, but the Filipinos vow to never forget.

(featured image: Melvyn Calderon/Liaison Agency)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Vanessa Esguerra
Vanessa Esguerra
Vanessa Esguerra (She/They) has been a Contributing Writer for The Mary Sue since 2023. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy, she (happily) rejected law school in 2021 and has been a full-time content writer since. Vanessa is currently taking her Master's degree in Japanese Studies in hopes of deepening her understanding of the country's media culture in relation to pop culture, women, and queer people like herself. She speaks three languages but still manages to get lost in the subways of Tokyo with her clunky Japanese. Fueled by iced coffee brewed from local cafés in Metro Manila, she also regularly covers anime and video games while queuing for her next match in League of Legends.