According to The Associated Press, some Native Hawaiians are upset about the title of Cameron Crowe’s new film Aloha, saying it misappropriates their culture by simplifying a word with multiple meanings to better sell a romantic comedy about white people finding happiness. The film—starring Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone—opens Friday, so no Native Hawaiians have actually seen it. But they’ve viewed the trailer, which doesn’t appear to have any genuine connection to Hawaiian culture, and have drawn some conclusions from there.
Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist, said, “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.” Ty Kawika Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, said that the word “gets so divorced from important indigenous Hawaiian context…It’s romanticized, literally, into a romantic comedy.” Tegan added that the trailer conveys a film where “Hawaii is the verdant background for white fantasies.”
While criticizing the title, Janet Mock, a Native Hawaiian, said on her MSNBC show So POPular! that “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. When we are in each other’s presence with the front of our bodies, we are exchanging the breadth of life.” State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson noted that if she had known the title in 2013, when filming began, she would have advised against allowing the production to take place in Hawaii. However, not all Native Hawaiians have a problem with the film’s title; TV and radio personality Kimo Kahoano said, “If you look at what aloha means, how can it be bad no matter how it’s used?”
Sony Pictures did not comment on the negative response to the title, but it directed the Associated Press to a behind-the-scenes video that features shots of hula and interviews with Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist who appears in the film.
There’s no question that Hollywood is at least partially responsible for the ongoing commercialization of Hawaiian culture. However, while Aloha certainly appears to be an exclusively white story from the trailer, the criticism of the state being presented as a “background for white fantasies” must be considered in context—namely, that tourism is how Hawaii makes most of its revenue. Regarding the myriad meanings of “aloha,” the film’s corny slogan, “Sometimes you have to say goodbye before you can say hello,” does lack nuance, but who’s to say that Crowe didn’t incorporate more information about the term into one of his overwrought monologues? We’ll find out when Aloha hits theaters this Friday.
[Via The Hollywood Reporter]