Fil-am director Ramona S. Diaz: An Emmy for your thoughts

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Fil-am director Ramona S. Diaz: An Emmy for your thoughts
Ramona and colleagues during the Emmys after-party in New York City. Photos courtesy of Ramona S. Diaz
STAR/ File

Very few Filipinos and Filipino-Americans have made it to the roster of Emmy Awards winners.  The Emmy honors outstanding achievement in television in the United States.

And one of the few to have received an Emmy is filmmaker writer Ramona S. Diaz. Ramona or “Monina” gives me bragging rights as she and I were  classmates in grade school and high school at the Assumption Convent. A classmate who has an Emmy on her bookshelf!

Her film, A Thousand Cuts, took home the Emmy for “Outstanding Social Issue Documentary” over the course of the two-night Emmy awards ceremony, which took place in New York City on Sept. 28 and 29, 2022. The feature-length documentary chronicles how Filipino journalist Maria Ressa fights to uphold freedom of the press and battles disinformation in the Philippines.

“Awards are important because they bring attention to the film...Of course, the film is only a piece of that effort. Maria herself — her tireless advocacy, is the key reason, but it’s our hope that A Thousand Cuts helps her not be only screaming at the wind,” said Monina after I congratulated her for her historic win.

From a team that included Leah Marino, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements and Carolyn Hepburn, the documentary, “offered a powerful look at the implications for democracy when press freedom is threatened and disinformation flourishes on social media.”

Ressa would later be named a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Filipino-American director Ramona S. Diaz proudly holds up her Emmy on her right hand for her film, A Thousand Cuts, and Maria Ressa’s Albie on her left. Ressa received the Albie from The Clooney Foundation for Justice.

Monina is reportedly the first Filipino-American filmmaker to win an Emmy in the Social Issue Documentary category.

According to a 2018 article by Rogelio Constantino Medina on philstar.com, the first Filipino Emmy Award winner  is Jess Espanola, an animator of The Simpsons for years.

“I started as a layout artist for King of the Hill and soon became assistant director,” the article quoted Jess as saying.  His assistant directorial work for The Simpsons eventually earned him recognition as the first Filipino (he was still an immigrant then) ever to win an Emmy. He won in 2008 for working on Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind.

According to philstar.com, Filipino-American producer Marc Anthony Nicolas  of The Talk on CBS won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Talk Show” in 2018.

Filipino composer Denise Santos joined the roster of Filipino Emmy winners earlier this year.  She received recognition in the 42nd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards under the category “Outstanding Music Composition” for her work in the BBC Documentary Primates.


Aside from winning the prestigious Emmy, A Thousand Cuts has also won the 2022 Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Journalism Award. The documentary directed, produced, and written by Monina was honored in the International Television category in this year’s annual Journalism Awards, which recognize outstanding reporting on human rights and social justice.

A Thousand Cuts has also bagged a George Foster Peabody Award in the Documentary category.  In the Peabody Award jurors’ citation, the film was recognized for its “astonishing access and chilling precision” and was honored as “a journalistic profile in courage for our time and a cautionary tale for global press freedom straining against the rise of populist autocracies around the world.”

After she received the Peabody, Monina recorded her acceptance speech from Manila, right after the May elections.

“I reckoned with this political earthquake when I learned that A Thousand Cuts was honored with a Peabody. It came when I was questioning the value of filmmaking, of being a storyteller at a time of massive disinformation. Thank you, Peabody. With this honor, I feel that the world is still listening, that what happens in this corner of Earth here in South East Asia matters.”

When Christiane Amanpour interviewed her about A Thousand Cuts, Monina said, “I am a Filipino-American, I film a lot of Filipino stories. And basically what I do is I unlock or decode what’s happening in the Philippines to the rest of the world.”

Monina’s films — from one about Imelda Marcos to one featuring Filipino teachers and their pains while working in America — have demonstrated her “ability to gain intimate access to the people she films.”  Her Imelda, a full-length documentary about the former first lady, garnered the Excellence in Cinematography Award for documentary at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.  In Manila, it grossed more than Superman 2 during its opening weekend.  Imelda screened in over 30 film festivals around the world.

“What draws me to making films is — well beyond the storytelling — the capacity to transport an audience to a world they would otherwise not come in contact with and to show them the world anew. I think there’s a little bit of magic involved in that and I find that exciting.”

“I also hope that the audience finds themselves reflected in some fashion in the characters that populate the film. That it makes them question their own values and how they live their lives. And there is no judgment here; it’s an internal reckoning. Where in the scheme of things do you situate yourself? How as a human being do you act in the world?

She doesn’t strive to be objective in her work. Plain and simple.

“I never aspire to objectivity. Given the medium I use, film, it is impossible even if I had wanted to do it because the very nature of film resists objectivity.”

So what’s next for Ramona S. Diaz?

“Fiction!” exclaims the storyteller of real lives. “I’m going to do fiction next.”

And that, dear readers, is the truth. *


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