Sony: ‘Aloha’ Is Respectful Toward Hawaiian Culture

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Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone in a scene from "Aloha."

Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone in a scene from “Aloha.”

Rafu Staff and Wire Reports

Sony Pictures on Tuesday responded to complaints that its new release “Aloha” treats Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians in particular, as nothing more than an exotic backdrop for a romantic comedy about Caucasian military personnel in Hawaii.

Directed by Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous”), the film stars Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams. It opened on Friday.

“While some have been quick to judge a movie they haven’t seen and a script they haven’t read, the film ‘Aloha’ respectfully showcases the spirit and culture of the Hawaiian people,” the studio said in a statement. “Filmmaker Cameron Crowe spent years researching this project and many months on location in Hawaii, cultivating relationships with leading local voices. He earned the trust of many Hawaiian community leaders, including Dennis ‘Bumpy’ Kanahele, who plays a key role in the film.”

Sony has also pointed to an online behind-the-scenes piece that shows Stone’s character saying, “this place has a lot of mana,” using a Hawaiian word that can mean “power.” There are shots of hula and interviews with Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist.

Crowe himself defended the film during a surprise appearance at an invitation-only screening on Tuesday at Pacific Theatres at The Grove in Los Angeles. He praised the state’s “land, sky and sand” and described his time there as a profound, cherished experience.

At the end of his brief remarks, Crowe called the movie “a love letter to Hawaii.”

Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans and former Hawaii resident, said last week that “Aloha” is one of many Hollywood films that take place in Hawaii but “exclude the very people who live there,” despite the fact that APIs make up a majority of the state’s population.

Aoki, who was interviewed Monday by KHON News in Honolulu, said that the cast includes “over 30 white actors and only three Asian actors with speaking roles, according to imdb. For a film shot in Hawaii and about Hawaii!”

Some reviewers have noted that Stone’s character, Allison Ng, is half Swedish, a quarter Native Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese, but that an API actress was not cast in the role.

Chris Lee, who is himself of Asian and white heritage, wrote an article for Entertainment Weekly titled “I’m Not Buying Emma Stone as an Asian American in ‘Aloha.’”

Some Native Hawaiians have been critical of the film’s title.

“If you have a romantic comedy about the military in Hawaii … but a title that says ‘Aloha,’ I can only guess that they’ll bastardize the word,” said Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist on Molokai. “They’re taking our sacred word … and they’re going to make a lot of money off of it.”

“If you have a romantic comedy about the military in Hawaii … but a title that says ‘Aloha,’ I can only guess that they’ll bastardize the word,” said Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist on the island of Molokai. “They’re taking our sacred word … and they’re going to make a lot of money off of it.”

The trailer is an example of “typical Hollywood,” where “Hawaii is the verdant background for white fantasies,” said Ty Kawika Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus.

“It’s been so appropriated in so many different ways — made into a commodity, made into a slogan,” he said of the word “aloha.” “It gets so divorced from important indigenous Hawaiian context. … It’s romanticized, literally, into a romantic comedy.”

During filming in 2013, the movie was untitled. State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson, who is Native Hawaiian, said if she had known the title, she would have advised against it. “I certainly would have seen it as an opportunity to counsel them … and then allow them to figure it out for themselves.”

Dawson added, “We’ve had a century of misrepresentation, of misunderstanding, of miscommunication of who we are,” she said of Hawaii’s role in the movies that dates to 1913. “We have fallen prey to the stereotypical ideas … that people have about Hawaii. It’s not based in truth and it’s not authentic.”

The title alone would not have been a basis for denying permits. “It’s not my job to basically tell people what they can do with regard to the creative,” Dawson said. “I can tell them what to do and not do when it comes to filming on public land.”

Hawaii residents, including Native Hawaiians, worked behind and in front of the camera on the movie, said Brenda Ching, executive director of the Hawaii local of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

The title doesn’t bother all Native Hawaiians.

“If you look at what ‘aloha’ means, how can it be bad no matter how it’s used?” said TV and radio personality Kimo Kahoano. “I think Hawaii is the best place in the world. And the reason is aloha.”

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