Tag Archives: Hawaii

Yea ‘Aloha’ is Super White, But What’s Up With the Way We’re Talking About It?

Still from Aloha

by Sharon Chang, originally posted at  Multiracial Asian Families

Okay first let’s just get this out of the way. Aloha is a really, really bad movie. Like REALLY bad. It’s getting horrible reviews (as it should) for lousy directing, a terrible script, mismatched A-list actors, poor production etc. It’s boring as hell to watch. I’m not going to even bother giving a a story synopsis here because the plot is so pointless and uninteresting, it doesn’t matter anyway. If you want or need a synopsis, it’s easy to find one online. Just do a web search.
No all you need to know, if you don’t already, is this: Set in Hawaii where Native Hawaiians continue to be besieged by whites and the military, the movie centers white people and the U.S. military anyway, all of which is supposedly made better by the conceit of a military-serving mixed-race Hawaiian/Chinese/Swedish character, who is actually played by a white actress.

Yup. Pretty much.

I saw this movie not because I wanted to (believe me there were so many other things I’d rather have been doing on a sunny day in Seattle), but because I felt I needed to. It’s rare that any sort of discussion about mixed-race/Asian intersections enters public discourse. So when it does, it’s a really important opportunity to get a glimpse into how society views and thus treats people of multiracial Asian descent.

I think almost everyone acknowledges/agrees here that casting a white woman in the role of mixed-race woman of color is crap; that blatant Hollywood whitewashing against a Hawaiian backdrop merely renews the license on an insidious practice that keeps marginalizing people of color. But as the scathing reviews keep rolling in, here’s what I’m really noticing: “Why is Emma Asian”, “Emma Stone Isn’t Asian”, “Not Buying Emma Stone As An Asian-American”, “Emma Stone As An Asian”, “Asian Emma Stone”.

Do you see it too? This is a film set in Hawaii which yes, doesn’t depict the many Asians who live there and alludes to yellow peril, but ultimately is a place that belongs to (and has been stolen from) the Hawaiian people. And yet in our conversations somehow this crucial point seems to be getting subsumed under the shadow of politicized Asian America. Even multiraciality seems to be less interesting to the public than that a character was supposed to be a ‘quarter’ Chinese. To be fair, reviewers do mention Native Hawaiians, Hawaiian culture, history and oppression to varying degrees (they sort of have to), but it’s pretty clear the fact of Stone’s non-Asian-(sometimes-mixed)-ness, is the one calling shotgun:

“…[multiracial people] comprise the fastest-growing population in America. Which makes Crowe’s choice of Stone as the melanin-free embodiment of Hawaiian soul and one of the most prominent part-Asian characters ever to appear in a mainstream Hollywood film so baffling.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Emma Stone, a white actress best known for her role as a white savior with a heart of gold in ‘The Help,’ plays a character who is ostensibly the result of an Asian penis interacting with a white vagina.”

The Frisky

“‘IT IS THE YEAR 2015. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME HOW EMMA STONE, WHO IS WHITER THAN WHITE, GOT CAST AS A HALF ASIAN CHARACTER.'”

Salon

Aloha actually features one of the more prominent Asian/mixed heritage female leads in any studio movie in recent memory. She just happens to be played by Emma Stone.

The Daily Beast

“In an industry that already severely lacks Asian representation on the big screen, they get EMMA STONE to play an Asian…Have you learned nothing from Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It’s offensive. And it’s offensive to let the talents of many Asian actors go to waste. Plus, it’s just plain rude pulling this during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

Complex

As far as I can tell, none of these mainstream reviewers are of Native Hawaiian descent and less than half are of mixed descent.

This, I don’t like. At. All. I’m deeply invested in exploring the facets of a mixed-race Asian identity and looking at the many questions it raises in a raced/racist world. But I am notinterested in a conversation about that identity which moves towards anti-indigeneity. This is what I see as the Hapa narrative, where mixed-race gets used as a wedge to further divide people of color while advancing white supremacy; something I wrote about in “Say Hapa, With Care” for AAPI Voices (2014):

The hapa of [Native Hawaiian] people stands in stark contrast to a widely commodified version, which lumps together mixed-race Asians and Pacific Islanders and then somehow magically loses the Pacific Islander part. This is no accident (whether intentional or not). It stems from a history that has sought to forget and remove Native peoples for centuries.
This is why, over the weekend, I called my fierce Native Hawaiian friend, scholar and activist Maile Arvin again to get her weigh in. And this is why, right now, I’m going to stop talking about my analysis immediately and let hers take final-center stage.


I’m not really interested in what they think is a more culturally competent movie but still is a white romance. It’s fundamentally flawed. It’s about a military contract and using Hawaii to protect the US from China and Japan…I haven’t seen critique of that. I’ve seen a lot of critique of the word ‘Aloha’ [but] more fundamentally it’s a settler/colonial movie. It’s not just about the name of it but the story they tell about Hawaii.

Maile was completely even-keeled, unruffled and unsurprised by the whitewashing of Aloha:

Hollywood doesn’t usually do well by Hawaiians. The tourism industry depends on all these movies about white romance in Hawaii. It’s not lucrative for Hollywood or tourism to tell any other story. There are so many movies that are shot in Hawaii and often they’re not identified as [being in] Hawaii, like Lost orJurassic Park. Hawaii is often used as the backdrop for all these stories that are about uninhabited islands – or – if it’s about Hawaii, it’s about white people falling in love.

She said she’d heard the movie-makers were claiming, in their defense, that Cameron Crowe loves, adores and respects Hawaii; that he researched his film for months and worked to incorporate the story of the Hawaiian people. But, she replied:

What Maile said she’s been far more interested to see is so many articles criticizing Aloha‘s whitewashing when, by contrast, Descendants (which also featured a mixed-race Hawaiian character played by white actor George Clooney) drew so little attention in 2011:
It seems like the Emma Stone character being Asian has sparked more critique than Descendants. Nobody seemed to have a problem with George Clooney playing a Hawaiian. [So] for a large audience, Hawaiians looking white isn’t a problem, but a mixed Asian person looking white is unbelievable. Which is kind of disturbing. The wider public thinks that Hawaiians could look like Emma Stone, but if they’re mixed with Asian, they can’t. It seems connected to larger problems like the API [Asian Pacific Islander] designation and Asian Americans speaking on behalf or over Pacific Islanders. It shows gaps in solidarity.

In conclusion, she powerfully spoke on the kind of intention/action it really takes to build coalitions and work in alliance with the Native Hawaiian community:

There are definitely a lot of mixed families and people who are Asian and Hawaiian. They are not necessarily always in conflict. At the same time, a lot of people who aren’t mixed [Hawaiian] grew up on the island and identify as Hawaiian. That’s the same problem. It just covers up Native Hawaiians again. And Native Hawaiians are erased from so many things. It’s important to be clear about how you represent yourself. For example, there are some Asian American activists [in Hawaii] that identify themselves as Asian settlers. Some people hate that idea. But it’s a way to express solidarity and really involve in activism with Native Hawaiians.

I think we need to be very very careful, aware, and far more thoughtful about the ways we critique this film. At this point I’m maybe even less concerned with Cameron Crowe (who’s an idiot) and his dumb movie, and way more worried about us. If we’re truly outraged by Hollywood whitewashing because it invisibilizes and erases, do we do much better when we erase too? Aren’t we just cloning the same that’s been done to us? Emma Stone should not have been cast in a person of color role. I one hundred percent agree. But let us never forget what that role was truly supposed to be. Not just an Asian one – but a very marginalized Indigenous and mixed-race one too.

Undoing racism is about uplifting oppressed voices, remembering forgotten histories, and not allowing our own suffering to become more important than the suffering of others. In thinking on Aloha, please make sure you are also hearing/centering Native Hawaiian voices and the story of Native Hawaiian peoples:

“Say Hapa, With Care”

“Possessions of Whiteness: Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness in the Pacific”

The Dancing Hawaiian Girl, At Your Service

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph.D.; originally published at Sociological Images

The marketing for beach-related vacation destinations often capitalizes on the association of foreign beaches with (partly) naked bathing beauties. This intersection of race, gender, and sexuality that positions the “ethnic” woman as particularly sexually accessible have deep roots in our colonial past in which foreign lands “open” to conquest by the Western world were conflated with foreign women “open” to conquest by Western men.

The “Hula Girl” is a case in point.

Continue reading

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Scot Nakagawa

By Andrea Plaid

Scot Nakagawa

I caught anti-racism activist Scot Nakagawa’s online action at Tumblr when an excerpt of his post, “Why I, An Asian Man, Fight Anti-black Racism,” cross-posted at Dominion of New York from his own blog, Racefiles, was getting reblogged and liked all throughout that scene. (N.B. The title also changed. Same essay, though.)

I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.

That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism?  I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.

But some folk have more on their minds.  They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”

So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.

So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.

With thoughts like that–and, let me be real, a face and headgear like that–I had to know who this man is. So, being me, I interviewed him. In it, he talks about the reaction to his essay, along with other ideas and things that make him totally crushable in my estimation.

Scot, let me be real with you: I think you’re totally hot. Now that I’ve gotten that out the way, tell me…how did you become involved with anti-racism?

I love the compliment. At 50, “totally hot” is not something I hear often, if ever.

I’ve been involved in some sort of anti-racism work since my late teens. Starting around 18 I tutored people in literacy classes and managed youth and family programs and an emergency shelter in my community in Hawaii. My education was gained in the field, working with low-income people of color. I saw the way racism served to exclude us from economic opportunities and political power. The solutions to our problems as a community seemed obvious to me, but winning support for those solutions from the political system was a lot tougher. That got me involved in community organizing.

The first time my work addressed racism specifically and not as part of delivering services to people of color was in the 80s. I worked with a group in Portland, Oregon called the Coalition for Human Dignity. That group formed in response to the murder of an Ethiopian student named Mulugeta Seraw who was beaten to death by neo-Nazi skinheads. The Coalition monitored vigilante white supremacist groups and organized the community to respond to violent bigotry at a time when violence and membership in white supremacist groups was on the rise. The Coalition eventually become a regional organization. Ever since then, keeping an eye on the racist right has been an obsession of mine.

Continue reading

A Trailblazer Twice Over: Remembering Wally Yonamine

By Arturo R. García

Ever hear the theory that life depends on a few breaks here and there? In Wally Yonamine’s case, this is literally true. As in, physiologically so.

It’s not hard to imagine that Yonamine was at a personal crossroads around 1948. Yonamine, coming off his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, injured his wrist, to the point that it forced him out of the game.  This in itself threatened to be a tragic loss: Yonamine was not only a prodigy, drafted out of high school by the Niners, he was the first Japanese-American to play in the National Football League.

So what’s a guy to do after his history-making accomplishments are cut short? Why, do it another way, of course. Yonamine, who became a pioneer in a way perhaps no one could have imagined, passed away this week at the age of his 85.

Within three years after the wrist injury, Yonamine had transitioned to playing baseball, completing a season apiece with minor league teams in Salt Lake City and his native Hawaii, when Lefty O’Doul, manager of the San Francisco Seals (his SLC team’s parent club), made a fateful suggestion.

“O’Doul told me to play my style,” Yonamine once said. “He told me ‘ you’re going to change Japanese baseball because of your aggressiveness. The Japanese will love the way you play'”

And so Yonamine set out on a journey that was the mirror-image of the one he started with the Niners: instead of being the first Japanese-American NFL star, he became the first American to play professional baseball in Japan.

Continue reading

Wipeout!: The Racialicious Review of Hawaii Five-O 1.1

By Arturo R. García

The Good News: Hawaii Five-O managed a casting coup in attracting members of three of the biggest sci-fi shows in recent memory: Daniel Dae Kim (Lost), Masi Oka (Heroes) and Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica).

The Bad News: Hawaii Five-O? More like Hawaii Five-Bro.

Unfortunately for fans of the actors listed above, the rebooted series’ new creative team – Peter M. Lenkov and the Star Trek & Transformers 2 writing duo of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci – shoves them clear to the back of the room from the get-go.

But, hey, at least they kept the theme song in one piece.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading