Sony Pictures has responded to accusations that its Hawaii-set military-themed romance “Aloha” misappropriates indigenous culture and whitewashes its portrayal of the local population.
After some native Hawaiians and Asian Americans took issue with the film’s choice of title and cast, the studio said in a statement Tuesday, “While some have been quick to judge a movie they haven’t seen and a script they haven’t read, the film ‘Aloha’ respectfully showcases the spirit and culture of the Hawaiian people.”
The statement continued, “Filmmaker Cameron Crowe spent years researching this project and many months on location in Hawaii, cultivating relationships with leading local voices. He earned the trust of many Hawaiian community leaders, including Dennis ‘Bumpy’ Kanahele, who plays a key role in the film.”
Sony’s response came in the wake of an Associated Press report that a recent trailer for “Aloha,” which stars Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, generated backlash over of the film’s title.
“If you have a romantic comedy about the military in Hawaii ... but a title that says ‘Aloha,’ I can only guess that they’ll bastardize the word,” Walter Ritte, a native Hawaiian activist, told the AP. “They’re taking our sacred word ... and they’re going to make a lot of money off of it.”
Ty Kawika Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department at the University of Hawaii, told the AP the trailer was an example of “typical Hollywood,” where “Hawaii is the verdant background for white fantasies.”
Although some detractors have already drawn their conclusions about the film, “Aloha” is only starting to be screened now — the screening for critics and media is tonight — and the film doesn’t open until Friday.
In addition to the statement, Sony directed The Times to a behind-the-scenes video in which Crowe and Kanahele discuss the meaning of aloha. (Watch the video above.)
“Aloha, it’s a gift of love, and you know aloha when you feel it,” Crowe says in the video. “And you know when somebody’s giving you that extra bit of compassion and understanding.”
Kanahele says that aloha represents “peace and an appreciation.”
Blowback about the film’s title came a week after the Media Action Network for Asian Americans issued a press release taking “Aloha” to task for featuring mostly white actors, including Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin. (MANAA has not seen the film.)
“Caucasians only make up 30% of the population, but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99%,” said Guy Aoki, the group’s founder and president, in the release. “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 an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.”
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