Wednesday, June 03, 2015

White Hawaii

I was holding off on talking about this because reports are that the problems with the movie "Aloha" are far greater than it's lack of diversity and well, I didn't want to give it more attention.  But now it's turned into a punching bag, and I wanted to add some clarifications.
Hawaii exists in this weird space in many American's minds.  It's like an exotic vacation destination, but no passport needed.  So people tend to think of it a little like some of the destination spots in Mexico, without event the pretension that you might need another language (other than a sprinkling of aloha and maybe mahalo).  The latest census data indicates Hawaii's population is about 30% white.  As far as I can tell, that includes folks at military bases, and the military, while typically a little more diverse than the country as a whole, seem to be about 60% white, while the US as a whole is about 74% white. The point here is both Hawaii and the military are more diverse than the US and so while a lot of movies in Hawaii seem to be about white people who are vacationing, or who have moved there, and "Friends"-like manage to interact almost entirely with white people, it's tiring.  I watched "Pearl Harbor" figuring it might merge my interest in WWII with my love of Hawaii and yet, it just was about white people.  There were hardly any extras that looked like the Hawaii I know.
Now, here's the thing.  I am part Hawaiian.  The reality is that I look white.  I am also white, I'm not saying that it's some weird accident, but I am entirely aware that I read as white to most people.  While genetics are fascinating (my brother reads far more Hawaiian than I do) the reality is that, as with most native American peoples, there are very few pureblood Hawaiians left.  Disease, rape, forced prostitution, intermarriage with missionaries, and so on, have led to a lot of mixed folks, which is why the term hapa has become so popular. 
So, Emma Stone can play a mixed race character and that's fine with me. Where that becomes problematic is if the only diversity in the main cast is a white person playing a mixed race person.  (Yes, there is apparently a subplot with a native Hawaiian actor.)  But, by my calculations, "Aloha" has as many Polynesian people as "Mad Max: Fury Road" and Mad Max has the excuse that it's post-apocalyptic and this particular story focuses on a village being populated by a mad white dude, so there's an excuse for it's paleness.  (Which you can choose to accept or not.)
And look I haven't seen "Aloha" and don't particularly plan to, so this is all conjecture.  It may in fact include a far deeper understanding of Hawaii than the trailer, film summaries, film reviews, and defenses of such seem to indicate.  I doubt it, but it might.  Not every movie has to do everything, but don't be like well we hired a white girl because sometimes mixed race people look white and so, who cares that that's our primary diversity.  Because people care.