Film screening: Sunday Beauty Queen

By Baby Ruth Villarama

Sun 26 Mar 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


Rayson Huang Theatre, Main Campus

Winner at the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival for Best Picture, Best in Editing, Children’s Choice Award, and the Gat Puno Memorial Award

Co-hosted by the Department of Sociology and the Women’s Studies Research Centre, University of Hong Kong, with the exhibition Visualizing the Voices of Migrant Women Workers.

An alternate screening of this film will also take place at 1 pm, Sunday 26 March.


Tickets are 50HKD (available on the door). To reserve a ticket, please contact Leo Selomenio (

Proceeds will go to Bethune House and the earthquake victims of Surigao City


More than a tenth of the Filipino population lives and works abroad; that’s close to 10 million expats. The economic reality is that overseas work can bring in a much higher wage than found at home. For instance, domestic work attracts three times the wage if you work in Hong Kong but we are not talking backpackers going on an Au Pair working holiday. These are mothers, wives, university graduates and professionals who leave their lives behind in the hope of getting ahead.

The flip side to the comparatively high wage are the hours and conditions they endure as most are on call 24 hours a day for six days a week. Consider also they also may even have at least one child to mind. There are stories of Filipinos sleeping in kitchens or on the lounge room floor and they almost always eat alone. Some have employers who are very cruel, some get terminated because they break Sunday curfew. Everyone is homesick and for some, they have been working abroad for thirty plus years. When they lose a job, get terminated or, in one case, their employer dies, they have fourteen days to find new employment or face deportation.

Sunday Beauty Queen, is a documentary that follows a group of such workers, predominantly young, as they toil in this bustling Asian metropolis. Sticking together on their one free day of the week, their social life centers on competing and supporting an ongoing annual calendar of beauty pageants. This is their outlet and this is the access to the story of Sunday Beauty Queen. The women here come from all sorts of backgrounds and different areas of the Philippines, with the common denominator being they are part of the army of domestic workers that support the families of Hong Kong.

Sunday Beauty Queen not only uses the pageant as access to a swarming diaspora of Pinays in Hong Kong but also as a counter point to the darker side of foreign domestic worker life. A massive army of women who are employed as live-in nannies, always at their employer’s beck and call, everyday except for their day of freedom on Sunday. The triumph of this documentary is that director Baby Ruth Villarama fully subverts the expectations of the beauty pageant, taking it from an event of disdain and exploitation to one of necessity, one of dire need; an event that is helping others to survive a pretty tough and lonely life.

In between events we see the life of the domestic, the homesick, the overworked, the abused but then we see also the elation and pride of the community when they all get together on that one day of the week. It’s an event of celebration and they seem to be regular fixtures on the calendar. To participate, to support, and to volunteer as staff — all these roles have greater significance to the working Filipino domestics of Hong Kong.

Original review by ‘Filmed in Ether’

Dr Julie Ham

Main Language