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Kourtney Kang — who created the new Disney+ show Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., which is filmed and set on Oahu — was born in Mililani, a small town on the island of Oahu.
Kang, whose father is from a Korean immigrant family, spent her early childhood years in Hawaii and later grew up visiting the islands, where she still has family. She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about ways to be a thoughtful and responsible tourist to the state.
Hawaii just reopened to tourism after closing during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are your thoughts on what tourists should keep in mind as they go back?
Hawaii has a long history of folks coming and bringing disease because it’s such an isolated place. The native Hawaiians lived there for so long without any interaction with other parts of the world, so when people first started coming to Hawaii, a sickness like a common cold would kill a native Hawaiian. Huge parts of the population were wiped out. They had no antibodies. Especially now, it’s so important for folks to be careful and wear their masks when needed and follow protocols. [U.S. travelers flying to Hawaii can bypass the state’s still-in-effect quarantine rule by showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.]
How else should one be a responsible visitor?
Hawaii is such a warm and welcoming place, and the way they operate is that what’s ours is also yours. My uncle told this story that he was fishing one time and he caught two fish because that’s what his family could eat that night. He saw a group of tourists who were catching like seven, eight fish, and he knew that they weren’t going to eat all that fish. So the idea is, “What do you need?” and just be open to leaving it for the other folks who are coming fishing. That’s very much a mind-set to keep in your heart as you travel through Hawaii. And the big one is not to litter, especially on the beaches. Just being mindful — if you open a piece of gum, the wrapper can blow away.
I also think there’s a mentality sometimes [where] folks just want everyone to wait on them. We’re still in a pandemic; everywhere is short-staffed. Being patient and having understanding will get you so much further than going expecting everything to be perfect and everyone to cater to your every whim. The spirit of aloha is a two-way street. It’s not something to be taken from the islands. It’s something that you can give, too.
What did cast members enjoy doing while you were filming Doogie?
They got really into hiking. They did Manoa Falls which is a great place to hike. A lot of folks did that and Koko Head. That’s another great hiking place.
Any places or things you recommend people see or do?
I recommend driving all around the islands. There’s nothing more beautiful, and it’s just a nice way to explore. One of my favorite shaved ice places is Island Snow in Kailua [on Oahu]. My dad grew up working at the grocery store that used to be connected [to it]. It’s famous because Barack Obama frequents it. One of my mom’s favorite things to do is right in Waikiki; at the Moana Surfrider, they have these great rocking chairs on the front porch, and my mom and I sit and just people watch. One of my favorite hotels is the Kahala [in Honolulu]; having breakfast with the waves right there is spectacular. And a lot of hotels have entertainment at night like the Halekulani.
There was one plot point in The White Lotus where one of the characters was very upset about tourists going to see traditional dance shows because of the history of the colonization of Hawaii.
To me, these issues are complex and it’s all about how you approach it. It’s good that we are all having these conversations, and it’s necessary. But if you approach it with respect and wanting to learn, I think there can be a benefit of it. I think there has been sort of a bastardization of hula — which, when it started, was almost like a form of prayer — to where you see a hula girl on a dashboard. I don’t know that that’s treating it with so much respect.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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