Cameron Crowe’s new film, "Aloha", doesn’t come out until this weekend, but the military-themed love story is already drawing criticism. Native Hawaiians are accusing the film’s title and white cast of appropriating Hawaiian culture and misrepresenting the island’s diversity.
Hollywood has long co-opted Hawaii as the paradise setting for white people to escape and discover themselves, continuously painting an unrealistic image of island life as a carefree vacation for white mainlanders instead of normal realities experienced by Native Hawaiians. And Crowe's film is certainly no exception to that unofficial standard by racist Hollywood.
The film stars Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone and features a host of other white actors including Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin and John Krasinski.
“Caucasians only make up 30% of the population [of Hawaii], but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99%,” said the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. “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.”
sweet. u based a movie in hawaii called aloha with only white ppl, in a state thats over 80% people of color. good job cameron crowe!— todóloga (@bad_dominicana) May 20, 2015
Ty Kawika Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus agrees saying the trailer is an example of "typical Hollywood," where "Hawaii is the verdant background for white fantasies.”
State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson also commented on the consistent white-washing of Hawaii by Hollywood that dates back all the way to 1913.
“We've had a century of misrepresentation, of misunderstanding, of miscommunication of who we are,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “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 movie’s title itself is considered disrespectful and accused of draining the word of its cultural heritage and history.
"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," Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte told the AP. "They're taking our sacred word ... and they're going to make a lot of money off of it."
Tengan told the AP that the word has "been so appropriated in so many different ways — made into a commodity, made into a slogan. It gets so divorced from important indigenous Hawaiian context. ... It's romanticized, literally, into a romantic comedy."
In response to backlash, Sony released a statement in an attempt to ease the tension upon the film’s release.
“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.”
The film industry is notorious for white-washing roles and even when using non-white actors, stereotyping that ethnicity so extensively that there isn't a shred left of cultural sensitivity. And while the lack of diversity and cultural appropriation is clear, Hollywood stubbornly refuses to change let alone even acknowledge the industry has a problem.