Chai Fonacier impresses in ‘Nocebo’ trailer – but netizens debate her Filipino accent

Screenshots: Nocebo (YouTube) / @ifyousekaee (Twitter)
Screenshots: Nocebo (YouTube) / @ifyousekaee (Twitter)

The trailer for the upcoming thriller Nocebo by Irish director Lorcan Finnegan is out and it features local actress Chai Fonacier more than holding her own against Hollywood stars Mark Strong (recognize him from the Kingsman films?) and Eva Green (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).

The eerie trailer depicts Green as a fashion designer stricken with an unknown illness, much to the worry of her husband, played by Strong. Fonacier enters their lives as a Filipino caregiver who makes use of traditional folk healing to cure Green’s afflictions, arousing concern and suspicion from Strong.

While Fonacier, best known for her turn in award-winning local films Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead) and Respeto (Respect), earned raves for her mysterious (and creepy) performance in the trailer, Filipino Twitter has been divided on her decision to use a thick Filipino accent that is different from how she speaks in real life.

Some argued that the actress adopting the accent perpetuated stereotypes about Filipinos in the West. 

“The accent is unbearable. Why was the accent greenlit? Is it really necessary? Good for Chai but my left eyebrow is raised. We know she doesn’t speak English like that,” Twitter user @hubineer said.

“I love my sugbuanon queen Chai Fonacier, but why do I feel like the director forced her to do this particular thick Filipino accent for the characterization? [Because] i’m 100% sure her annoying ass is against this,” another user, @macabey0nce, said.

https://twitter.com/macabey0nce/status/1577157254746296321

“The only thing I find wrong with Chai Fonacier’s accent in Nocebo is that this was filmed and directed under [a] white lens because it makes it look like they’re stereotyping how Filipinos should sound like,” @isayness said.

Meanwhile, many users came to Fonacier’s defense and said her accent was necessary for the character, a traditional folk healer from the countryside — adding that any qualms about a thicker accnet had more to do with people’s internalized racism.

“It’s called [an] accent. No one, not even the film, is making fun of the accent,” director Rod Singh wrote. “This accent is real for many Filipinos. The moment we stop thinking ‘it’s wrong’ is the moment we stop thinking ‘it’s funny.’”

“So how exactly should a Filipino actor sound when they star in a foreign film?” @lakwatsarah asked.

“Sometimes accents are bad and sometimes accents are appropriate and all of the time maybe there is context and nuance to consider,” film critic Phil Dy wrote.

“You would rather have her speak a vague, NCR (Metro Manila) type of Filipino English, than truly locate the background of her character in provinces where folk medicine is still being practiced, just so she avoids stereotyping?” @genegmgy weighed in.

“Go outside the country and notice that a lot of Bisaya people who’ve had no formal education speak English like that. If anything, this speaks more about your bias against [the] Bisaya (Visayan) accent than it is about her,” @claudiopoy said.

“Chai literally struggled to get a break in Philippine film because of colorism and now she got a big break in the West and y’all are fixated with her accent??? Such a weird thing to be pressed about,” @ifyousekaee said.

Ultimately, the last say on the subject should come from Fonacier, who addressed the issue herself in a social media post.

“There’s some talk about the accent I used in the trailer. Simply put: you would shit on me as an actor if I spoke in “better English” and THEN you found out what my character’s background is when you see the film. That’s all,” she wrote.

Nocebo premieres in US theaters on November 4 and on demand on November 22.

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