Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating balanced, sensitive and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans, is calling out Sony Pictures for its “white-washed” film “Aloha,” which opened Friday.
Taking place in the 50th state, the movie features mostly white actors (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel) and barely any Asians or Pacific Islanders.
“Sixty percent of Hawaii’s population is APIs,” says MANAA founding president and former Hawaii resident Guy Aoki. “Caucasians only make up 30 percent of the population, but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99 percent. This comes in a long line of films (‘The Descendants,’ ‘50 First Dates,’ ‘Blue Crush,’ ‘Pearl Harbor’) that uses Hawaii for its exotic backdrop but goes out of its way to exclude the very people who live there. It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.”
In a twitter chat with imdb, “Aloha” writer/director Cameron Crowe said he had “family roots in Hawaii” and that “I wanted to dig deeper into the real story of Hawaii… Not only was local community so inspiring to us, we wanted to hire many of them as actors and to make sure to pay respect and help educate everyone on the mainland about the rich history and culture of Hawaii… It was a long process involving a lot of research at Hickam Air Force Base and spending time with the Native Hawaiian community too. The story grew and became personal.”
“Yet somehow, in the end,” Aoki points out, according to imdb, “Crowe hired at least 30 white actors, five actors to play Afghans, and the biggest roles for APIs were ‘Indian pedestrian,’ ‘upscale Japanese tourist,’ and ‘upscale restaurant guest.’ They didn’t even have names. How can you educate your audience to the ‘rich history’ of Hawaii by using mostly white people and excluding the majority of the people who live there and who helped build that history — APIs?”
Sony has not publicly responded to the criticism, but an anonymous source connected with the film told The Hollywood Reporter that no member of MANAA has seen “Aloha” or read the script.
In 2008, Sony released “21,” which was based on the real-life story of an MIT math professor who taught some of his students how to win at blackjack in Las Vegas. Most of the principals — including the teacher and the student who won the most money — were Asian Americans. In the film, they were played by Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess, a Brit who had to have an accent coach on the set to teach him how to sound like an American. API actors Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira played members of the team but had the least amount of screen time.
“Sony Pictures is once again missing the boat by ignoring a large potential audience for its film,” declared MANAA President Aki Aleong. “Look at the ‘Furious 7’ movie, where 75 percent of the paying North American audience is people of color. Despite the star power of ‘Aloha,’ it’s clear to audiences that they wouldn’t be seeing an authentic story about the 50th state. We ask them to support other films this weekend because if this movie does well, it’ll encourage Hollywood to continue to not use API talent.”
Aleong, an actor who’s celebrating his 60th year in the business, added, “There are many talented Asian Pacific Islander actors who could’ve played significant roles in this movie.”
“Late last year, Sony came under fire for using mostly white actors (Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver) for a film taking place in Egypt — “Exodus” — and relegating actors of color to smaller, subservient roles,” said MANAA Vice President Miriam Nakamura-Quan. “The casting controversy surrounding the film should have made Sony realize that diversity in casting can be a selling point as audiences become more sophisticated and sensitive to the issue of whitewashed casts.”
MANAA is a founding member of The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, which since 1999 has met regularly with the top four television networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — pushing for more diversity both in front of and behind the cameras.