INTO THE NEXT STAGE: “Hawaii Five-O” Acknowledging Racial Conflicts in Paradise

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By GUY AOKI
(First published
in The Rafu Shimpo on November 4, 2010.)

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Well, the updated “Hawaii Five-O” is finally getting some local flavor. At least in the episode that ran last week. When a legend in the Hawaiian surfing world is murdered, the team investigates and a surfer talks to Danny “Danno” Williams in pidgin English. Danno asks him, “I’m sorry, are you speaking English?” After the guy leaves, Danno tells Steve MacGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), “I dare you to tell me what he just said!”

In this past week’s episode, Danno asked, “Where am I here?” when it was clear it was supposed to be “what am I here?” Apparently, the producers aren’t paying attention to the script. So not only are the two white leads mumbling and/or talking too fast, they’re now also flubbing their lines. Here’s the upshot of this whole situation, spoken in the best pidgin English I can muster: “Brah, if you no can unnastand what da locals on dis show stay sayin’ at least ass betta den not unnastanding da haoles. You know what I mean? Cos dey no mo’ excuse, eh?”

When two members of the Kapu—a fictitious fraternity that trafficked cocaine then transitioned into making money legitimately off surfing—are suspected of the surfing murder, MacGarrett and Williams go to Kawika, the leader of the group, asking him to turn them over. Kawika, like many Hawaiians, has a chip on his shoulder and is suspicious of haoles (white mainlanders). When the leader says he knows where the suspects are but doesn’t volunteer where, Danno makes a joke.

Kawika tells him: “Give me one good reason why I should cooperate with you, haole.”

Danno reasons that since Kawika supposedly cared about the victim, this would be a way of helping catch his killers.

“Watch yourself, haole.”

“There it is again, the H word! You know, it’s ‘Detective Williams’ or ‘Danny.’”

“I’ve got other words but they all mean, ‘Don’t tell me what to do on my island.’”

MacGarrett asserts it’s his island too, informing him that both his parents are buried in Hawaii and his grandfather died during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “So help us.” It looks as if Kawika is being persuaded, but almost as if the cop can’t help keep his testosterone under control—or the producers didn’t feel they could afford to have their white star shown up by a brown person—he adds, “Otherwise… I’ll arrest your ass for obstruction of justice!” At this point, the two men stand in macho defiance of each other and three locals at another table get ready to rise and join the fight as Danno looks on nervously.

MacGarrett tells his adversary, “I came here today out of respect, Kawika. But if you want to do things another way, I’m game.”

Kawika, hearing that MacGarrett’s grandfather went down with the Arizona, decides to turn over the former members of his group out of respect. They shake hands.

Settling back down to their drinks, Danno asks, “You want me to pay?”

Kawika answers, “Haole, you took your eight island from us. The least you can do is pick up the tab every now and then.” MacGarrett shoots his partner a look, who nods, and agrees to take care of it.

It’s important to acknowledge the racial conflicts and resentments that are a part of the 50th state. There’s a reason why the sovereignty movement to turn the islands back into a monarchy resulted in President Clinton signing a 1993 resolution apologizing for the U.S.’s part in overthrowing the Hawaiian government. When the “Big Five” mainland corporations took over, they instituted a racial hierarchy where whites—always the bosses—were paid the most followed by the Japanese. Filipinos were paid less and so forth. It engendered a lot of distrust and resentment between the minority races while those in control laughed at the results of their effective “divide and conquer” strategy.

Unless the show’s producers allow a realistic depiction of how locals often feel toward mainlanders and haoles in general, what’s to keep this series from being just another CBS crime show albeit one which features palm trees in the background? In this episode, Kono (Grace Park) visits her ex-boyfriend’s community and we see fellow islanders—despite working for businesses like Bank of Hawaii—living in poverty in tents on the beaches. I appreciated the acknowledgement of how some people are struggling to get by.

I’m assuming these touches were thanks to Japanese American Kyle Harimoto who co-wrote the episode and was Story Editor for NBC’s series “Las Vegas” during the 2004-5 season. Coincidentally, the show later featured James Caan, father of Scott Caan, who plays the new Danno on “Five-O.”

Interesting Dilemma Department: At the recent San Diego Asian Film Festival, Daniel Dae Kim, the new Chin Ho on the series, revealed that he’ll get a love interest on the show, but deciding the race of the woman has been harder than he thought because there are racial ramifications: He asked the audience for their feedback. Should she be white, a fellow Asian, or a non-Asian minority? They leaned away from white and towards the other two.

James MacArthur

Makes me wonder if there was much discussion about Kono’s love interest because he turned out to be white (ooh, how unusual; please note sarcasm). We’ve complained about the lack of young Asian couples on television—that producers seem to fear it would make any situation “too ethnic.” So since Asian women have historically been paired with white men and Asian men have been intentionally rejected, I suggest that Asian female stars or regulars on television series be paired with Asian men. It’d help to balance the racial/sexual dynamic.

However, because Asian men have rarely been paired romantically with anyone and white girlfriends represent greater acceptance from the dominant culture, they should be paired together. Because why should we be seen as being attractive only to women of our own race? That certainly wasn’t the message we received for decades of constantly seeing Asian women with white guys—that only Asian guys liked them. In fact, it was the opposite—everyone found Asian females desirable but they didn’t have the desire for their own men!

Sad Farewell/Last Booking Department: James MacArthur, who played the original Danno on “Hawaii Five-O” from 1968 to 1979 (he, like Kam Fong, quit one year before the series was cancelled in 1980), recently passed away at the age of 72. He was the last of the original four stars (heck, except for new cast of the final season, every regular except Al Harrington is now dead). In 2004, when a reporter asked MacArthur for his reaction to the death of Zulu (the original Kono), the actor hadn’t heard the news and began crying, remembering how kind his co-star had been. I always thought fondly of him after that.

Ratings Update: “Outsourced,” despite getting mixed reviews, has received a full season order from NBC. The Peacock network also gave the same vote of confidence to “The Event” featuring Ian Anthony Dale and “Chuck” which includes Vik Sahay.

Far East Movement’s “Like a G6,” is the #1 song in the country. Their single, featuring the duo Cataracs and Dev, has already sold a million downloads. The group is made up of Asian Americans: These rappers from Koreatown are Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean American. From left, J-Splif, Kev Nish, DJ Virman and Prohgress are shown.

Yay? Department: To my surprise, the #1 song in the country is by a group made up solely of Asian Americans: Far East Movement. These rappers from Koreatown are Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean American. Their single, “Like a G6,” featuring singing by the duo Cataracs (which wrote and produced the track) and female performer Dev, has already sold a million downloads, good enough for platinum certification. Like a lot of crap on the radio these days, it’s heavily auto-tuned (meaning I could do it and you’d be impressed too).

For years, I heard of talented Asian American singers unable to secure deals with major record labels because the companies didn’t know how to market them (as if talent wasn’t enough and their Asian ethnicity was nothing but a negative). Think of At Last or Harlemm Lee. So it’s a shock when an entire group can not only get a contract with industry giant Interscope Records but go all the way to the top.

Of course, they’re typical of most “hip” Asian American music performers: They always wear sunglasses (even at night; holy Corey Hart!) maybe in an attempt to act cool but certainly to hide their ethnicity. Years ago, I pointed to rock bands featuring one Asian American member. He was easy to spot because he was the only one wearing shades. Sad.

I can’t stand rap/hip hop music and this track, predictably, is repetitious and monotonous. Yeah, it brings to mind a “movement” that’s harder—the kind you make in the bathroom. Well, at least it proves that Asian Americans can make that kind of “music” as badly as everyone else. So uh, yay?

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.  And stay away from auto-tunes.

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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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