Hong Kong, like many cities around the world, benefits from the help of underpaid Filipino workers. A local domestic worker would cost $8 an hour, but a Filipina in the same role works round the clock, 6 days a week, for just $500 a month. There are strict rules for these poor workers, who aren’t allowed to maintain their own residences (if they could even afford them). They often sleep in the kitchen, which is also where they eat, alone, after having served the family. These are the people who care for the elderly or nurture the very young. Away from their own families, often even leaving young children behind, they pour love and care into their duties while receiving very little in return.
Sunday Beauty Queen examines these workers, and the pastime they enjoy in their very limited time off: beauty pageants. Every Sunday they gather in events they organize themselves, strutting their stuff in costumes equal portions prom dress and cardboard accoutrements.
This well-intentioned documentary by Baby Ruth Villarama sheds light on important issues faced by migrant workers but lacks real depth, raising more questions than it answers. These women run themselves ragged serving others, sending all of their money back home to the families they left behind. They reclaim their dignity and their personhood on Sundays, competing in made-up beauty pageants. If the awarding of crowns and sashes runs late, they could lose their jobs on the spot for coming in past curfew. Instantly homeless in a foreign country, they have 14 days to find new employment or they are forced to leave. Many can’t even afford to leave, due to fees charged by both Hong Kong and the Philippines coming and going, on top of airfare and the shame of going home empty-handed.
I loved getting to know the women in this documentary, but I wish I knew them better, had a fuller sense of their stories. Sunday Beauty Queen is an excellent start, but these workers deserve a bigger piece of the pie, both in life and on film.
This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.