Actress Ella Cruz says history is gossip, historians in Philippines fight back

In this environment, the actress’ statement proves incredibly dangerous. Her comment cannot be construed as offhand. In the Philippines, politicians seek to erase what happened during the Martial Law era.

  • 2 years ago
  • September 29, 2022
4 min read
Actress Ella Cruz claims Actress Ella Cruz claims "history is gossip" to promote Pro-Marcos Filipino film and historians react | Photo courtesy of Mika Baumeisiter on Unplash
Sabrina Schnabel
Sabrina Schnabel worked for the Guggenheim in Venice and the late Carlos Celdran as a historian and researcher. Carlos Celdran is remembered as a famous tour guide and artist from Manila’s historical district who used history lectures with music and visuals to immerse tourists in the Spanish and American colonization periods.
Miss Schnabel writes and co-authored Fantastic Filipinas, a children’s book series about Filipina heroines. She co-hosts the podcast What’s AP: Araling Panlipunan Rebooted (or social studies rebooted).
Social media influencers mobbed Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo, and others like him, after he responded to Ella Cruz’s comment that history is like a gossip. The trolls’ attack on Filipino historians peaked on Twitter on July 3, 2022, and continued for days to other social media platforms. The attacks generally supported the President Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos Jr. who is the son of the late dictator of the same name.
Ella Cruz made the comment seemingly to draw controversy and attention to the film Maid in Malacanang – which many call a fake documentary designed to rewrite historical facts of the Marcos Regime. Cruz portrays Irene Marcos, one of the daughters of late president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. She mimicked Marcos himself who maintains history is gossip.
Many of the historical revisions, misinformation, and disinformation used during the election of Marcos Jr. are believed by many to have contributed to his win. Historians tried to fight back on social media platforms dominated by influencers who support the Marcos regime.

MANILA CITY, Philippines ꟷ When famous actress Ella Cruz said history is gossip, I spent the entire day feeling irritated. As a public historian, I thoroughly research and provide evidence-based accounts of real events that happened to real people in the past. These are not simple stories from long ago, nor am I an academic.

In July, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, Cruz’s comments appeared. [At the time, Cruz took a role as Irene Marcos, child of former president Ferdinand Marcos, in the film Maid in Malacanang, touted as a pro-Marcos film.]

While promoting the film, Cruz said, “History is like gossip. It is filtered and added on to as well, so we don’t know what real history is. The idea is there, but there really are biases. As long as we’re here, alive, and with different opinions, I respect everyone’s opinion.”

I witnessed an actress involved in a controversial movie, saying controversial things to get attention. I wanted to ignore her, but so many historians already experience belittling forces. We will not be diminished further.

Historians become infuriated with “history is gossip” comment

What Ella Cruz said, struck the very core of where I work and spend my life. To take our efforts, grounded in evidence, and compare it to gossip infuriated me. My irritation continued throughout the day, considering how cavalierly she spoke about a subject for which I invest with great passion.

It did not take long for the historical community to issue a swift and severe response. They slammed Cruz for her comment. The hashtag #HistoryNotChismis took hold and some historians like Ambeth Ocampo still use it.

I try to see where Cruz was coming from. To the untrained eye, history does represent stories we tell about events which transpired. To the trained eye, however, we use artifacts, recordings, photographs, and all other forms of evidence, spun together to prove events through research. Included are the stories people tell.

What Ella Cruz does not understand is that historical research reaches beyond what dead people said about each other. Each piece written by a historian includes sources, written examination of sources, and a thorough outline of research. We do not deal in “he said, she said.”

Reinstatement of Marcos regime whitewashes history

Months later, we continue to talk about the comment made by Ella Cruz. Though obviously wrong, why do we continue to entertain it? Today, historians race to keep the history of Martial Law in the Philippines from being painted over by the new Marcos regime.

Sabrina ‘Sab’ Schnabel holds the children’s book Fantastic Filipina which she co-authored | Photo courtesy of George Buid

In this environment, the actress’ statement proves incredibly dangerous. Her comment cannot be construed as offhand. In today’s climate in the Philippines, politicians seek to erase what happened during the Martial Law era. We must make clear to the world that history is not gossip. History remains real and under attack.

When people ask how we fight back, I say the solution is simple. We must study history and remember it to keep it alive. As historians, we must preserve the stories of real people who experienced Martial Law and support institutions like museums which bring material history to the people.

History is not gossip. Gossip proves fluid. It mutates and changes with every re-telling. We must ensure history does not devolve into something like that.

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