This summer, I was hanging out at my old stompin' grounds of Waikiki where one of the world's most intriguing Hip Hapa Homeez once lived. When I first moved to Honolulu in 1994, I found an apartment on Ka'iulani Avenue. Stupidly, I had no clue about the wonderful woman for whom the street was named. But that changed fast as I studied Hawai'ian language at Iolani Palace, and read everything I could find about the history of the royal family.
Today, Princess Ka'iulani claims ownership of her own triangular-shaped park on Kuhio Boulevard. Since all the shots I took of her statue remain on my vid cam, I've posted someone else's rendition of her that I saw displayed in a shop window, below.
Born to Princess Likelike, Ka'iulani was an intelligent child filled with grace. Her father, a Scotch businessman named Archibald Cleghorn, sent her abroad to be educated after her mother died when she was just 12. While Ka'iulani was gone, her aunt Lilio'kalani was deposed as Queen and Hawai'i was annexed by the U.S. Next in line for the throne, Ka'iulani travelled to America to beseech President Cleveland to restore her Kingdom, but her words were lost on Congress. Back home, Ka'iulani suffered greatly from the loss of her country and her crown, and fell ill. A beautiful woman who loved beauty, she kept peacocks as pets. It's said that at the exact moment when she died (at age 23), her peacocks screamed ceaselessly.
Another, more popular, figure in Hawai'ian culture is Duke Kahanamoku. Still, not a lot of people know that he was responsible for introducing surfing outside of Hawai'i in the 1920's. Contrary to popular belief, surfing did not start in Malibu, but was a sport many Native Hawai'ians enjoyed until, in 1821, European missionaries banned it--in Hawai'i!
A statue of Duke--the "original beach boy"--stands today on Waikiki Beach where tourists and locals alike often adorn it with long leis. A gold-medal Olympic swimming champion, the brown-skinned Duke often encountered racism on his many travels around the globe. Yet, he always remained stoically dignified even when he was shoved into stereotyped roles in Hollywood movies. A restaurant bearing Duke's name is located near his statue and, not surprisingly--at least up until 2003--I never saw anyone not Caucasian working there.
This week, I received an email from Jesse B who read my article about "yellowface" that was published many moons ago. Upset that a TV animation series, The Last Airbender, based on mostly Asian characters was being made with only Caucasian actors, she contacted me for my opinion.
Coincidentally, over the weekend, I watched the movie Norbit with my mom and her husband. While I was aware that a lot of BBB's (big, black, beautiful) sistahs were upset with the film because of Eddie Murphy's portrayal of a stereotyped overweight, angry, black woman--"blackwomanface", if you will--I was also astounded by his nerve to perform in "yellowface". If you've never seen this flick, don't. But if for some unfathomable reason you have, you must've felt like I did. First of all, Eddie don't ever try to do an "Asian" accent again. I don't know why your character had to be Chinese, but trust me, no one hailing from any existing East Asian country speaks like your Mr. Wong. If for no other reason than because of how African Americans suffered in the past by white actors playing "blackface", you should've displayed some sensitivity towards "yellowface". For shame, Eddie! But, then again, $159 million worldwide box office probably expunged you of any such feelings of disgrace.
Back to Jesse B and her distress over the upcoming film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Since I'm not familiar with the TV show's characters, writers, or the soon-to-be-made movie, all I can say is that the only South Asian I've ever seen in a Shyamalan studio release has been him. Why is that, I wonder? I know Shyamalan probably thinks he's doing a Hitchcock number by walking onto his set and even giving himself some speaking lines. But aren't there any other actors of color who could play roles in his movies? It's the same question I want to ask another Indian American filmmaker who recently made a short with an all-white cast. Is this the film you wanted to make, or did you feel you had to make it like that because of how Hollywood continues to perpetuate racist stereotypes? Does the term self-hating come into play here, or is it all about the benjamins? Any comments, folks?
Meanwhile, things are cookin' over at Facebook. If you're there, please join our group, Hip Hapa Homeez. And, remember our Hapa*Teez t-shirts and Watermelon Sushi film, too.
Until next time, I promise to always be...
Your Hip Hapa,