Some Native Hawaiians Disapprove of 'Aloha' Movie Title
"They're taking our sacred word ... and they're going to make a lot of money off of it," Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte says in just the latest criticism leveled against the Cameron Crowe film.
HONOLULU — Some Native Hawaiians disapprove of the name of a movie filmed and set in Hawaii, saying that titling it "Aloha" is a disrespectful misappropriation of culture and simplifies a word that's rich with meaning.
The Cameron Crowe film starring Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, opens Friday, with a screening in Honolulu three days before. The concerns are based largely on a trailer that depicts a military-themed love-story that appears devoid of a genuine connection to Hawaiian culture.
Sony Pictures did not comment on the concerns, pointing The Associated Press to an online behind-the-scenes piece that shows Stone's character saying, "this place has a lot of 'mana,' " using a Hawaiian word that can mean power. There are shots of hula and interviews with Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist who appears in the movie.
"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," said Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist on the island of Molokai. "They're taking our sacred word ... and they're going to make a lot of money off of it."
In the Hawaiian language, aloha is not just a greeting or a word to convey love. It has other meanings including, compassion, mercy, grace.
"Aloha actually comes from two Hawaiian words: 'alo' — which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people. And 'ha,' which is our breath," Janet Mock, a Native Hawaiian, said on her MSNBC Shift show So Popular! where she panned the title. "When we are in each other's presence with the front of our bodies, we are exchanging the breath of life."
The trailer is an example of "typical Hollywood," where "Hawaii is the verdant background for white fantasies," said Ty Kawika Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus.
"It's been so appropriated in so many different ways — made into a commodity, made into a slogan," he said of the word aloha. "It gets so divorced from important indigenous Hawaiian context. ... It's romanticized, literally, into a romantic comedy."
During filming in 2013, the movie was untitled. State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson said if she had known the title, she would have advised against it.
"I certainly would have seen it as an opportunity to counsel them ... and then allow them to figure it out for themselves," she said.
The Hawaii Film Office is a state agency that promotes the industry and administers permits and tax credits. The office must also balance those duties with protecting resources and communities, said Dawson, who is Native Hawaiian.
"We've had a century of misrepresentation, of misunderstanding, of miscommunication of who we are," she said of Hawaii's role in the movies that dates to 1913. "We have fallen prey to the stereotypical ideas ... that people have about Hawaii. It's not based in truth and it's not authentic."
In 1931, another Aloha movie told of "a half-caste island girl" who "refuses to follow tradition and marry a fellow islander, instead falling in love with a white man and heir to an American fortune," according to IMDb.com. There also was Aloha Summer in 1988 and Aloha, Bobby and Rose in 1975.
The title alone would not have been a basis for denying permits. "It's not my job to basically tell people what they can do with regard to the creative," Dawson said. "I can tell them what to do and not do when it comes to filming on public land."
The producers wanted to film in Waianae, home to a high concentration of Native Hawaiians, for scenes set in Afghanistan. Dawson counseled producers that Waianae residents might have negative feelings about filming on homestead lands.
They chose another location.
Native Hawaiians make up about 21 percent of the state's population, according to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Hawaii residents, including Native Hawaiians, worked behind and in front of the camera on the movie, said Brenda Ching, executive director of the Hawaii local of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
The title doesn't bother all Native Hawaiians.
"If you look at what aloha means, how can it be bad no matter how it's used?" said TV and radio personality Kimo Kahoano. "I think Hawaii is the best place in the world. And the reason is aloha."