I went to watch Aloha this weekend to see what all the fuss was about, having heard overwhelmingly negative word of mouth from people about its portrayal of the Hawaiian people. It’s terrible in a way that could make you angry, but I found it depressing and unintentionally upsetting. With bizarre attempts at committing to quirk by awkwardly spoken dialogue and a poor production feel (like, ABC Family-level), Aloha will most likely make a dozen “worst of the year” lists.
That being said, the most controversial aspect of the movie is director Cameron Crowe claiming he wanted to honor the people of Hawaii with this movie, going so far as to have Dennis “Bumpy” Pu‘uhonua Kanahele, an actual Hawaiian national leader, make an appearance. Crowe drops the ball with the introduction of Hawaiian characters by using them in a scene to bring up the history of businessmen swindling the natives to turn the nation into part of the United States, before turning them into generic magical natives. They’re plot points in the bigger picture of several stories involving white people. Worst of all, it’s just lip service. The inauthenticity of the Hawaiian culture feels staged purely to give some sort of mystic backdrop to Bradley Cooper’s character.
Emma Stone was cast as Captain Allison Ng, who is one-quarter Hawaiian. It’s the film manifestation of someone claiming they’re Indian (when they mean Native American) by saying they are 1/8 Cherokee. It’s a baffling decision turned preposterous because Emma Stone is a welcome presence (and this is her worst performance, given the awful script). Maybe a few decades ago this would have been more acceptable, but Crowe is behind the times.
Look, I get it. I’m a reasonable guy. I understand people writing the checks want to feel comfortable with casting popular white actors in roles whenever possible. But what if I told you that people of other races would get excited to see movies with their own race representing them onscreen?
Take a look at the box office for the Fast & Furious franchise. Furious 7 just grossed over 1.5 billion dollars. Given the hype after Fast & Furious 6, there’s a good chance 7 would have at least broken 900 million, if not a billion. (Yes, some of that revenue was due to the audience paying their respects to Paul Walker.) I have several young relatives who seek out these movies specifically because they’re being represented onscreen for being of Latino ancestry.
On a more personal note, I’ve always swayed towards the movies of Robert Rodriguez specifically for his various films detailing Mexican families and stories. Do you have any idea how much I loved the first two Spy Kids films? They’re not only entertaining adventure movies (go ahead, fight me), but I could actually relate to them because people who had similar characteristics to my family. I will put up with any number of Sin City movies and support Robert Rodriguez for this alone.
As you’re reading this, it’s okay to acknowledge you’ve never felt that excitement. You may have never thought about it before or can’t grasp the concept if you’ve had the opportunity to be regularly portrayed on a large screen. Just be respectful when people struggle to get excited when a nameless minority gets eaten in a Jurassic Park movie.
A friend pointed out on Twitter an instance on King of Queens where representation was addressed directly.
@deggowaffles I was watching King Of Queens yesterday and Deacon says he can’t find a costume for his kid cuz there’s no black superheroes.
— Matt Brown (@CallMeRoy88) June 5, 2015
This isn’t an issue just associated with the male gender. Women don’t get roles as prominent as men. Women of color get even less opportunities. And can anybody tell me the last time a transgender person has appeared in a movie and not been made to be the butt of a joke? Some call out the Fast and Furious franchise for the simplest scripts and unrealistic stunts. But there are those of us who don’t care because it’s a series actual interested in presenting us a wide spectrum of races and genders to get behind. (Though we totally need transgender characters in future installments).
Remember the man-babies who cried about Mad Max: Fury Road because they thought it was “feminist propaganda”? They didn’t see the movie that redefined action cinema because they were insecure about women having a more vital role in the film than Max Rockatansky. I’m not even mad, I just feel sorry for them.
In a more recent turn of events, I’ve been a supporter of a bisexual Captain America as it would 1) make a great statement in regards to a hopeful direction of modern America 2) informing new context for the Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes friendship, 3) encourage young viewers that might be unsure of their sexuality to embrace what makes them happy. This didn’t make some people happy. In fact, the response was the exact opposite of that.
Plenty of people have personally told me how they think representation is okay as long as it doesn’t ruin the flow of the story. They don’t want it to be “forced” or to “pander” to the masses. Never mind the fact that characters like Captain America are made specifically to impact the lives of children and make money (where is your God now, man-children?).
With all due respect, fuck that noise. Until it becomes the norm, any person of color or non-heterosexual character put into a story will be considered pandering – which has always rung odd to me since pandering is to please the masses, so shouldn’t keeping the white status quo be considered pandering?
Speaking as the kid who wanted to change their name to sound “more American” when they were 10 years old because there weren’t many characters to look up to with Mexican sounding names, you don’t get to tell me when there’s been enough representation.