‘Happy Jail’: Documentary series about Cebu’s dancing inmates drops on Netflix this month

Videos of Cebu’s famous dancing inmates have gone viral several times since 2007 but not much is known about life inside the prison where they’re detained. A Netflix documentary dropping this month offers a look inside the facility and into how prisoners cope amid Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Happy Jail is directed by Emmy Award-winning Filipino-American filmmaker Michele Josue and will be available on Netflix come Aug. 14, Wednesday.

A trailer for the five-part series was released yesterday and shows a glimpse of what the audience can expect. The documentary crew went to the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) and spoke with the inmates, their fans, and police officials.

It also shows the emotional and physical hardships the inmates go through, a side not seen in their sunny dancing videos. While many applaud the CPDRC for using dance routines as a form of rehabilitation, the program has also been criticized for allegedly being exploitative.

READ: Filipino historical biopic ‘Heneral Luna’ coming to Netflix

“Dance, love, and brotherhood are central to the lives of CPDRC’s inmates. But when a war on drugs erupts in the Philippines, the inmates, their prison gang, and the ex-convict in charge do all that they can to hold on to their hopeful, happy jail,” the documentary’s Facebook page says.

CPDRC inmates first became famous when a video of them dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller went viral in 2007. In 2010, Time magazine said that it was one of the 50 best videos on YouTube, although it falsely reported that the prison is located in Manila. The inmates were also featured in other international publications including The New York Times

The video now has more than 58 million views on YouTube.

Other dancing videos featuring the inmates include a tribute to Jackson when he passed away in 2009 and choreography set to Queen songs.

Happy Jail director Josue is the director of the documentary Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, which is about the murder of a young gay man in 1998. The film earned Josue a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special.

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