For most Americans, former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos is a punch line — better known as the owner of 7,000 pairs of shoes, or as the one-time beauty queen who fancies herself "the mother of my country." But as Lauren Greenfield's detail-packed documentary The Kingmaker unspools and we discover the facts about Marcos and her reign, the joke goes flat. Her foolish vanity masks a profoundly rotten tale of corruption and abuse of power.
Filmmaker Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles (2012) profiled an absurdly rich Florida family and their preposterously gaudy mansion. In that sense, the story of Mrs. Marcos — widow of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989 — makes a pertinent segue for Greenfield's inquiring camera. Born Imelda Remedios Visitación Romualdez in Manila in 1929, she married up-and-coming politician Marcos as his political career was taking off. After his 1965 election his wife assumed the role she still clings to, as the grande dame in charge of "beautifying" the lives of her subjects, beginning with her personal possessions and surroundings.
By general consensus, the Marcoses used the Philippine treasury as their own personal bank account, eventually looting billions of dollars. Imelda's "edifice complex" oversaw myriad public works projects, to go along with clothes, jewelry, and the importation of African wild animals to the Philippine island of Calauit, where villagers were forced from their homes to make room for the first lady's pets. Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972 featured roundups, torture, and "extra-judicial executions" — resulting in the Marcos family's exile, forced by the 1986 People Power Revolution.
Interviewed by Greenfield, Mrs. Marcos today — back home and holding elective office — seems proud of her dubious achievements, and makes a habit of handing out money to kids on the street. Perhaps worst of all is her support for the bloodthirsty President Rodrigo Duterte. The Kingmaker, a film guaranteed to nauseate fans of democracy, is nevertheless a must-see.