Star-Bulletin Features

Hawaiian Studies head
fears Hollywood motives

Film scouts in isles

By Burl Burlingame

According to the writer of "Kamehameha," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the upcoming film production is a train already on the tracks. But at least one Hawaiiana scholar is already working to derail it.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Gladys K. 'Ainoa Brandt Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, met with screenwriter Greg Poirier two weeks ago to discuss the project, and this week emailed him a response that was then distributed over the UH email network.

Poirier contacted Kame'eleihiwa after receiving the email, which read, "I must ask that you NOT continue with the project. Please stop writing today," wrote Kame'eleihiwa. "What you are doing will result in hewa" -- the Hawaiian word for mistake or error.

"For Hawaiians it is not acceptable that Hollywood should be allowed to misrepresent the history of our ancestors in any way. Nor do we want Hollywood's warped sense of 'Hawaiiana' portrayed to the world.

"The story of Kamehameha should wait for a culturally knowledgeable Hawaiian to write the screen play, for a Hawaiian movie company to make the film, and for a Hawaiian descendant of Kamehameha to play the role," continued Kame'eleihiwa.

"We Hawaiians have already had 60 years of cultural misrepresentation, and it is no longer tolerable ... The very fact that movie producers, and you as well it seems, think that 'the Rock' is appropriate to play Kamehameha, is an indication that you understand nothing of Hawaiian culture, no matter how thorough has been your research in the history of Kamehameha.

"Please understand that I have nothing against you personally ... You have done much research and you can even pronounce Hawaiian names properly," wrote Kame'eleihiwa, and then acknowledged that Poirier, a Baldwin High graduate, grew up in Hawaii.

Even so, continued Kame- 'eleihiwa, "you don't believe Hawaiians should have the final say over the telling of our history. You think you have the right to make money off of us, off of our culture and those things we hold sacred. You do not have this right. The saga of Kamehameha is Hawaiian intellectual property, guaranteed by the United Nations, and if you have any respect for Hawaiians you will stop your project now."

Kame'eleihiwa did not respond to attempts to reach her.

Those who believe that if Poirier stops writing the movie will not be made are mistaken, the screenwriter told the Star-Bulletin. There is no copyright on historical fact.

Although Poirier said he can understand Hawaiian concerns, "all I can do to assuage them is continue researching and being as faithful as I can be, given the limits of a screenplay," said Poirier.

"I've gotten many positive responses from the Hawaiian community as well, by the way. If I leave, I'll just be replaced by someone who may not care as much about historical accuracy or cultural sensitivity as I am.

"This movie is being made; that's the bottom line. If some people don't agree with certain aspects of it, I respect that and understand their point of view, and they'll do what they feel they have to do.

"But thinking that by complaining that Kamehameha's story won't be told is unrealistic. If any historical figure is in the public domain, (Kamehameha) is it."

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