There are phenomenal celebrities, who are great singers, great actors — but Nora Aunor is peerless. Her meteoric rise to super stardom remains unmatched to this day. She is a modern age Cinderella, but she needed no Prince nor a fairy godmother. Truly, one can’t just discount the gargantuan efforts of the people behind her, but her colossal talents, all encompassing arts and media, have been her golden ticket to the super pedestal her own people respectably exulted her to be, and she has never needed to go down. With her beaming eyes, her unassuming personality, and a finger on her lip — she can silence a massive crowd (Sotto, 1993). Her eyes are worth a thousand books of mythologies. They can convey a wide range of emotions that can only be captured with the magic of a camera. Her creative history is an enigma to every filmmaker and performance artist she has worked with for the last 51 years. Her illustrious career has spanned half century, but the codes to the mysteries that made it possible for her to be the most immortalized Filipino artist ever has yet to be uncovered. We can only try our very best.
Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, unlike princesses and queens, was not born to a life of luxuries and convenience. The story about her hawking bottled water in a train station is one for the books. In fact, when her sister needed bigger money to pay for her school tuition, she volunteered to join a local singing contest (DeVera, 2011). It would be her first ever victory, which was followed by another triumph, and finally a nationally televised singing championship for which she was declared undefeated for more than 2 months. She was indeed pronounced a singing sensation — something at that time is already equivalent to winning a national election. Nora’s entry to show business was not as easy as most people thought it had been for her. She was initially rejected by four film companies, perhaps deciding that her brown dusky looks and petite package is quite the opposite compared to the order of the day: statuesque mestizas. When she was finally signed a movie contract, the main clause was for her to be given singing parts. The arrival of Nora Aunor to the silver screen as the newest singing sweetheart of the masses signaled the coming of a new era in Philippine show business. Finally, a phenomenal star her own people can draw their own dreams and aspirations to was born.
The Superstar and Beyond
After successful commercial films that both displayed her acting and singing prowess, which include strings of acting nominations and highest selling record and singles, Nora was proclaimed as the first ever Box Office Queen of the Philippines in 1971. Such signal honor would only be a title fitting for profit her films have turned in — but those that have lived and followed the days when her films are exhibited could attest to the level of pandemonium created by the so-called Nora Magic in the theaters. Sure dynamite in commercial features, Aunor’s brand of talent and charisma has always been bigger than film and life itself. Nora Aunor decided to venture into producing films, which started with the film Carmela (dir. Danny Holmsen) in 1973. Other successful films followed closely, such as Paru-parong Itim (dir. George Rowe) in 1973, Super Gee (dir. Armando Garces) in 1973, and Banaue (directed by National Artist Gerardo De Leon) in 1975. Finally in 1976, she won her first ever FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) and Gawad Urian (Critics Prize) Best Actress awards for her toure de force portrayal as a barrio teacher trapped between her loyalty to her country and her aggressor in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, dir. Mario O’Hara). It can be argued that only when Aunor started calling the shots, she was able to do serious and dramatic films that truly highlight her wide acting range. Both her producing and acting hats heralded the dawning of the Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Nora would receive more critical acclaims with films such as Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo (Once A Moth, 1976), Bakya Mo Neneng (Your Wooden Shoe, 1977), Roma Amor (1978), and kaw Ay Akin (You Are Mine, 1978). In Atsay (Housemaid, 1978) — she defied all the odds and won one of the single highest honors of her career, the Best Performer Award at the Metro Manila Film Festival. She would later win four more Best Performer Awards from the Young Critics Circle.
In 1979, she received her second FAMAS victory for her iconic performance in Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo (You Are the Mother of Your Child, dir. National Artist Lino Brocka). She would then win 3 more FAMAS trophies and would be elevated to Hall of Fame in 1991 and Circle of Excellence in 1996, after making another award-worthy performance (in Bakit May Kahapon Pa, dir. Joel Lamangan) after being a hall of famer for many years.
She remains steadfast and all-powerful, both commercially and critically, through the years. After strings of financial and awards successes, she again produced one of the most critically acclaimed films in the world. Directed by National Artist Lino Brocka, the eponymously titled Bona opened the opportunity for Aunor to represent the film and her country at the Cannes Film Festival. From Cannes in 1981 and then to Berlin in 1983 for the film and the role that would forever be attached to her thespian persona — Himala (Miracle, dir. National Artist Ishmael Bernal), Nora Aunor would be the only actor in the Philippines, and perhaps the whole Asia — to attend and compete in more than 3 grandslam international film festivals, which culminated in 2011 when she received a special critics prize for Best Actress for the film Thy Womb (dir. Brillante Mendoza). To this date, Aunor has won 61 film awards, and received a total of 124 nominations.
International Awards received:
Best Actress — “Thy Womb” — Sakhalin International Film Festival, Russia — 2013
Best Actress — “Thy Womb” — Asian Film Awards — Hong Kong — 2013
Best Performance by an Actress — “Thy Womb” — Asia Pacific Screen Awards , Australia — 2012
Bisato D’ Oro Prize — “Thy Womb” — Venice International Film Festival, Italy — 2012
10 Asian Best Actresses of the Decade — Green Planet Movie Awards, Hollywood — 2010
Best Actress — “Naglalayag” — Brussels International Film Festival, Belgium — 2004
Best Actress — “The Flor Contemplacion Story” — Cairo International Film Festival , Egypt — 1995
Best Actress — “Bakit May Kahapon Pa?” — East Asia Film and Television Awards, Malaysia — 1997
Certificate of Honor — “Himala” — Berlin International Film Festival, Germany — 1983
Certificate of Honor — “Bona” — Cannes Film Festival, France — 1981
Lifetime Achievement Award (Philippine Cinema) — Cinemanila International Film Festival, Philippines — 2000
Lifetime Achievement Award (World Cinema) — Cinemanila International Film Festival, Philippines — 2011
People of the Year — People Asia Magazine — 2013
Best Asia Pacific Film of All Time — “Himala” — CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award — 2008
At 62, Aunor remains to be the Philippine’s greatest living actor. If one must argue, perhaps, she is Asia’s best, all things considered. When asked to react on her international recognitions, she humbly says, “I am not making films for an acting competition or awards, but for what good it would bring to our society. Those lessons to be shared with its audience that can alter their outlook on life, that’s my intentions.”