The reviews for Cameron Crowe’s latest film Aloha have been awful, so maybe Asian-Americans dodged a bullet here. Either way, the decision to cast Emma Stone – a lily-white blonde woman of Swedish, Dutch (German), English, Scottish, and Irish descent – as a native Hawaiian with Asian ancestry defies all common sense. The controversy has only heated up these past few days, with Aloha being criticized for its lack of diversity, as well as its lack of respect for Hawaiian culture.
Media Action Network for Asian Americans issued this statement:
“60% of Hawaii’s population is AAPIs,” says MANAA Founding President and former Hawaii resident Guy Aoki. “Caucasians only make up 30% of the population, but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 90%. 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 like tourists making a film about their stay in the islands, which is why so many locals hate tourists. It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.”
Numerous articles have been written about the topic and many native Hawaiian people are boycotting the movie. The Daily Beast‘s Jen Yamato wrote, “[Crowe’s] ‘love letter’ to Hawaii feels about as authentic as a mainlander’s #TBT to that one exotic Oahu vacay years ago, sipping Mai Tais on the beach at sunset while watching the hula show.”
Crowe finally came out with an explanation (apology?) on his blog, The Uncool:
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.
It’s not the greatest apology in the world, but at least Crowe was forced to acknowledge his whitewashed cast, which also includes Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams. Thankfully, neither of them are playing native Hawaiians in the movie, but it does raise an interesting discussion about Hollywood using Hawaii as a backdrop to white people’s problems, while ignoring the local population.
And if the character of Allison Ng was based on a “real-life, red-headed local,” why was Emma Stone blonde in the movie? And why was Reese Witherspoon the original casting choice back in 2008? I mean, what a joke.
Only time will tell if he truly means it when he says, “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.” It certainly doesn’t look good that his next project Roadies allegedly cast another white woman to play an Asian character.