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Interview: Carlo Vergara, Author of ‘Zsazsa Zaturnnah’

Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Moveeh is a transgender superhero film made in the Philippines. We’ve previously written about why this is such an interesting film. Basically, it’s funnier than Deadpool and takes an even stronger look at society than X-Men movies. We had the opportunity to contact Carlo Vergara, the author of the comic book the film was based on for an interview taking a deeper look at the themes this film explores.

Carlo Vergara Interview

Background

While it gets weird, a lot of the themes and events that occur in Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Moveeh are universal. During the second act, aliens send a group of zombies to overrun the town where the titular character, also known as Ada, runs a humble beauty salon. The film includes a fan-favorite musical number where Ada meets her estranged father who is now a zombie. She performs her song — complete with zombie background singers — to try to gain his acceptance. This is absurd yet serious at the same time.

During the zombie attack, most of the town takes cover in the local church. Thinking clearly, Zaturnnah (also known as Ada) has her co-manager, Didi, run by the beauty parlor to collect all of the spray bottles. When she returns to the church with them, Zaturnnah has the local priest load their supply of holy water into the spray bottles. The entire village then works together to defeat the zombies by spraying holy water on them. For some reason, this makes them explode!

A scene from the film Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Moveeh.

And that is where the script deviates from what we expect from superhero stories. A traditional superhero story is one person fighting against a villainous entity, sometimes with sidekicks. Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Moveeh portrays the entire town working together to defeat the zombies.

This left us with some thematic questions that could best be answered by Carlo Vergara.

An Informal Interview With Carlo Vergara:

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Nate: I have a strange question. Are the zombies in the comic version of Zsazsa Zaturnnah? I’m asking because I noticed something very interesting about that scene.

Carlo:  Yes, the zombie scene is in the graphic novel.

Nate: There is something odd I noticed about the zombies. Early superheroes started in the ’30s and ’40s in North America and Europe. Regardless of place, they were based on the concept of a central authority figure to follow and view as a perfect being, who defeated a one-dimensional villain, who we were supposed to hate. This is a very fascist model: ‘do not question the central protagonist, do not investigate the enemy, and the central person is perfect in all acts.’ Most early superheroes’ roots started in fascism or America’s not-called-fascism-but-effectively-is-fascism.

Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh doesn’t do this. In the zombie scene, Zaturnnah rallies the village, and they work together to defeat the zombies. You don’t have a central authority figure who solves all problems. Instead, the people, including our protagonist, work together to defeat the zombies. Also, Zaturnnah is accepting of minorities, at least in terms of gender and sexual preference. She embraces diversity, unlike fascists, who endorse conformity. Basically, early superheroes started in fictional fascism. ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh is the exact opposite. Thoughts?

Carlo: Wow, I’ve never thought about the fascism angle. I’ve always thought that the ‘almighty superhero,’ which started with Superman, was in response to the public need for a hero figure during uncertain times. Which is why when the US started to prosper in the early 1940s. American comic book companies experienced a slump. It was then that a new enemy had to be introduced: Hitler and the Axis powers.

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The plan for Zaturnnah was for her to be the reluctant hero. She knows that she doesn’t have all the answers, and for the most part, doesn’t really want to be the champion of the people. In the graphic novel, she has this little monologue where she says, “It would have been nice if I got paid to do this. I can’t eat the people’s applause.”

Her rallying the people to defeat the zombies was one of those ideas that just hit me. In hindsight, I’d say it was a nice departure from the usual, as you said, singular, all-powerful hero who saves the day. It keeps with the overall theme I have: anyone can be a hero. It’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever written.

Nate: Agreed.

Carlo: And it’s also subversive. (laughs)

Nate: And with the anti-fascism angle, it’s even more subversive! Yay!

Carlo: (laughs)

Nate: I actually like superheroes who don’t have all the answers. It adds realism to a genre which desperately needs it. I think that’s also why Iron Man got popular, although Zsazsa Zaturnnah is better at the goal.

Carlo: I really appreciate your taking the time. I think Iron Man got really popular because of the movie.

Nate: That too.

Carlo: I’m really excited and anxious about doing the English webcomic.

zsazsazaturnnahposter

Nate: I really hope a sequel movie can be made about Ada’s adventures in Manila.

Carlo: Well, the sequel’s going to be a challenge. It’s a long story. There’s a lot more going on in the sequel since I wanted it to be as complicated as the big city. By the way, have you seen this? [Carlo Vergara sends a link to a commercial where Zaturnnah makes a guest appearance at the end.]

Nate: Perhaps it could be a two-parter. That is an awesome commercial.

Carlo: It is, isn’t it? I was surprised that the ad agency wanted her in there. A producer here is considering a television series. We haven’t talked about the details yet since I’m still finishing the sequel.

Nate: Either way, I’ll buy the DVD.

Carlo: Of course, the super awesome dream would be Netflix picking it up.

ZsaZsa Zaturnnah: A Look at Gender and Society in Superhero Films


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