Saturday, June 6, 2015

Speculating on Why Aloha Is So White: White Is the 'Language' the Hollywood Industry Speaks

There is a Hollywood movie about Hawaii called Aloha.  It stars mostly white people in a state (and former US colony) that has mostly non-white people. 

The most egregious offense is that the protagonist of the movie, a woman named Allison Ng, is played by a white actress, Emma Stone, whom they try to pass off as more Swedish than Chinese.

I've read a ton of articles on this.  One of the best is from NPR's Code Switch.

I can't really comment on a movie that I haven't seen, but I think if there's anything to take from the rash of articles, it's that these movies can't really "get away with it" anymore.  They can't just "yellow-black-brown-red-face" movies and not expect to get away without having to explain themselves.  It's a much different world than the media world I grew up with throughout the 1990s where basically the only voices were on TV or radio.

One article quoted a press release from Media Action Network for Asians, which posed a question that I would like to answer.

"How can you educate your audience to the 'rich history' of Hawaii by using mostly white people and excluding the majority of the people who live there and helped build that history---AAPIs?" - Media Action Network for Asians (MANAA)

The question posed by MANAA reminds me of that Clint Eastwood movie Gran Turino;  the struggle of a group of people is highlighted, but it appears that story is still told on terms dictated by a leading white actor(s).

It appears that in Aloha, the issue is that almost all the main actors are white.

I'm not really privvy to any of the actual decisionmaking within the movie, so in the absence of that access, all I can do is make an educated guess.

My big insight/guess was this:  Directors/producers live in a very competitive industry.  They are sympathetic to the causes of 'other' people and perhaps wanted to show a little bit of that (good intentions), but also find a way to make whoever their masters are some money. 

But they also want to make money, and thus rely on 'star power' (incidentally, and appropo 'white power') to 'speak' a language they think 'audiences' (re:  lots of white people in America) speak.

You know how when someone speaks another language you don't know you might automatically tune out what they say --- perhaps that's was the fear implicit in their decisions.  If you use just people of color, audiences might automatically tune them out, perhaps dismissing the movie outright as something pertinent only to "those" people of color.   The movie might as well be in Mandarin at that point.

But if you bring white people in, you bring more receptive eyes, and then ears to 'the cause.'  Unfortunately, that's probably been the rule of thumb in the industry, but hopefully

I'm already used to the idea of hearing people say that if you cast people of color, they may not have as broad an appeal.  I dislike the idea, but I think I know what they are saying.  From a movie producer's point of view, they need to operate within certain constraints, but them not being of Asian descent in America, I don't think they realize how much each piece of representation affects us and our ability to simply be here.