No Aloha for White-washing

If you haven’t been following the “Aloha” casting-controversey it’s hard to fault you. The film is, after all, a total bomb and so you’re forgiven for not cluing yourself in too much. The important take-away is that in a film called “Aloha,” that centers on the fate and traditions of Hawai’i at odds with the U.S.’s interests, the main 14 characters are white. Which really in this day in age is shocking, especially since Oahu is only 17 percent white.

Meet the diverse line-up of "Aloha"
Meet the diverse line-up of “Aloha”

The main offender that people kept circling back to was the character of Allison Ng, played by Emma Stone. Often times when there’s a popular white actress (or actor) filmmakers distance themselves from the controversy, and just wait for it to all blow over. So there’s something to be said for Cameron Crowe stepping up to the plate and acknowledging he has something to learn.

Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one.  A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii.  Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.

Whether that story point felt hurtful or humorous has been, of course, the topic of much discussion. However I am so proud that in the same movie, we employed many Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders, both before and behind the camera… including Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and his village, and many other locals who worked closely in our crew and with our script to help ensure authenticity.

We were extremely proud to present the island, the locals and the film community with many jobs for over four months. Emma Stone was chief among those who did tireless research, and if any part of her fine characterization has caused consternation and controversy, I am the one to blame.

I am grateful for the dialogue. And from the many voices, loud and small, I have learned something very inspiring. So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation, and I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.

Crowe on The Uncool

It’s admirable, that Crowe is willing to eat crow and take responsibility, and his background does shed some light on the situation.

The problem is, it’s still not great. It’s mind-boggling to think that there are some out there who would see this as an anamoly—or worse, a decision based wholly on merit—but there are. And while Crowe clearly owns up to the need to learn something, 14 lead white characters isn’t a mistake or an oversight. It’s systematic.

Representation is more than something “people hunger for,” and that’s not a new concept to 2015.

The original “Star Trek,” set against the cultural backdrop of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement, not too long after World War II. Its commanding crew featured a Russian, a Black Woman (in an actual role), a Japanese man (who was actually in an internment camp as a child), and their science fiction regularly dealt with the friction present on 1960s Earth. Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge is what inspired Whoopi Goldberg to be an actress and Mae Jemison to become the first African American woman to become an astronaut. The show was so representative for the Civil Rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Nichols to stay on the show.

“Star Trek” embraced a life beyond cultural divides through representation. “Aloha” sidelines what people of color it does have; all but marking them as “others.”

To say that white-passing is the same as white erases valuable voices that could’ve provided some commentary around the film. Crowe is by no means the first (nor, sadly, likely the last) to take an ill-advised turn into the white-washing, and for Crowe to say that in 2015 he’s “learned something inspiring” silences the voices that deserve to be heard over his on the subject.

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