In response to all the haters comme moi who have identified possibly the the worst look in a particular series of bad looks—i.e. the casting of Emma Stone as “Allison Ng” in an all-white movie called Aloha about Hawaii, a state that has already seen and suffered from an aeon’s worth of Columbusing—director Cameron Crowe has issued a lovely (and I’m serious) statement taking responsibility for something that was obviously his responsibility.
Here’s the note in full, from his blog:
From the very beginning of its appearance in the Sony Hack, “Aloha” has felt like a misunderstood movie. One that people felt they knew a lot about, but in fact they knew very little. It was a small movie, made by passionate actors who wanted to join me in making a film about Hawaii, and the lives of these characters who live and work in and around the island of Oahu.
Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.
Whether that story point felt hurtful or humorous has been, of course, the topic of much discussion. However I am so proud that in the same movie, we employed many Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders, both before and behind the camera… including Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and his village, and many other locals who worked closely in our crew and with our script to help ensure authenticity.
We were extremely proud to present the island, the locals and the film community with many jobs for over four months. Emma Stone was chief among those who did tireless research, and if any part of her fine characterization has caused consternation and controversy, I am the one to blame.
I am grateful for the dialogue. And from the many voices, loud and small, I have learned something very inspiring. So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation, and I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.
Thanks again, Cameron Crowe
The tone of this statement is admirable—calm, engaged, sweet. It has caused many people to feel sorry for Cameron Crowe. He’s just a man trying to tell a story! He’s just a man making a small ($37 million) movie that has been misunderstood from the beginning (so what if the cast is all white? There are white people in Hawaii???) that actually employed many minority people “to help ensure authenticity” (of the movie called Aloha about a group of white people in Hawaii).
And—opposed (or shut out) as I am to the idea of automatic representation, or more precisely, the idea that a person can meaningfully be representative of a group on its face, rather than that group’s context in political history—I can appreciate Crowe’s frustration: Allison Ng is a real person, he’s saying, a real redhead who doesn’t look like her heritage and has doubled down on it as such. I feel that. But, if I may put on my Social Justice Diaper—like I said before, the problem is not the specific instance, or the question of Emma Stone’s visual plausibility, or about part-Asian looks whatsoever.
The problem, again—and I’m sorry to be tedious, but we keep having to do this—is that Emma Stone’s casting as Allison Ng is an obvious flash point for the extreme subconscious erasure of non-white people in the studio system, which goes so deep that a director like Cameron Crowe could get a major movie about Hawaii called Aloha made with 14 white lead actors without anyone raising an eyebrow, because the single Hawaiian character and the extras plausibly counted as authentication, and enough.
(I keep mentioning the movie’s name because I’m so embarrassed by it: it’s a native word, signifying precisely the aspect of native Hawaiian culture that has been systematically stomped on by white people for centuries. It’s like making a movie called Jungle Alley about Harlem, starring Neil Patrick Harris as a maker of subversive toile fabrics who’s just moved with his husband into a run-down but charming apartment on 133rd. “Aloha” is not a word for me, somewhat of a Pacific islander myself; it’s certainly not a word for Cameron Crowe; it’s a word from and for the cool Hawaiian fam who’ve emailed me since that first post being all, “Thanks, we’re so tired of this shit,” who begin every email with “Aloha” because it’s their damn word.)
The true depth of this problem may be most visible at the end of Cameron Crowe’s lovely statement, when he assures us, in 2015, that he’s “learned something very inspiring,” which is that people are hungry for “truth in representation.” It may go even deeper in the fact that the externalized humility in statement, for a lot of people, will be enough of a concession from a lauded man to make him some sort of victim—of what the uncourageous will call “outrage,” of what some people might call silencing, of a single incident of one white man being held back from unfettered self-representation, the way so many other people have lived for so long.
It’s a nice gesture. Let’s read William Finnegan instead!
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Image via Getty