The story for this screenplay was first presented to me by a Filipino broadcast journalist who was actively reporting on the condition of migrant Filipino workers in Riyadh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This film story was inspired by actual events that happened in the life of Leonora Somera, a native of San Jose City in Nueva Ecija province, island of Luzon, Philippines who came to the central region of Riyadh as a household worker in 1987. Leonora ended as a shepherdess on a remote mountain village in the Al-Baha region of Saudi Arabia stranded and unable to go home to the Philippines in the succeeding 21 years.
I became interested in Leonora Somera’s story upon reading the news articles of her odyssey as a migrant worker in the Kingdom. I have found a story for an important and engaging independent film about migrant Filipinos in Saudia. Moreover, Somera’s story sheds light on the kafil or sponsor system currently used at many Middle Eastern countries in employing foreign workers. The kafil, an institution that is deeply rooted in conservative Arab culture in the Gulf countries of the Middle East is considered as a form of modern-day slavery by human rights organizations. In this system, the foreign worker coming mostly from developing countries in South Asia, Central Asia, and South East Asia is normally subjected to abuse by the kafil or sponsor.
Somera’s odyssey as a diasporic Filipino presents the economic conditions that forces her and millions of other Filipinos to leave the motherland in search of better opportunities in richer countries abroad. This trend has been going on for centuries in the Philippines. As early as the 17th century during the height of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trades, Filipinos had been leaving their homes to try their luck abroad escaping the political and economic repression taking place in the only Spanish colony in Asia. This trend continued during the American Period in Philippine colonial history when thousands of young Filipino men left their rural villages to work in the fish canneries of Alaska and the large commercial plantations of Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast of the U.S.
Starting in the fifties, Filipino middle class professionals including thousands of women started leaving the country for America. During the seventies, the Philippine government institutionalized the export of Filipino human labor to the oil-rich countries of the Middle East. This development continues until today.
At present, the Philippines continues to export all types of human labor including work for artists and entertainers, healthcare professionals, teachers, seamen, factory workers, household workers, farm workers, and many more. Migrant Filipino workers are found in virtually all the countries of the world today and the figures continue to rise. Migrant Filipinos even find ways to work illegally in politically unstable countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq where they receive higher salaries.
Being a former guest worker myself in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from November 2007 to September 2015, I gained the wisdom and the confidence to write about film narratives that present migrant Filipinos in the Middle East.
A Kingdom of Shadows is the archetypal story of thousands of women from the developing countries of the Indian subcontinent and South East Asian nations like Indonesia and the Philippines who are deployed yearly as household workers in the oil-rich Gulf countries of the Middle East. This story also reveals my personal journey when I lived as an overseas contract worker in the Kingdom for eight years. Finally, A Kingdom of Shadows is a modern day story of slavery.