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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
Racebending and appropriation in Hawaii 5-0 
3rd-Nov-2010 06:25 pm

Part of the appeal of the new Hawaii Five-0 for me was that it seemed to hold a promise of a more racially diverse cast than standard TV fare. So even though I'm not a fan of CBS or of police procedurals, I wanted to check out and support the show. I'm still watching, 7 episodes in, but not because I want to suport it, but because I simply can't avert my eyes from the gross cultural appropriation and racebending going on.The show has numerous problems, a huge one being holding the spotlight on the two white characters and sidelining Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. But this has been highlighted by many online and even in the MSM. I want to write about something that seems to have gone unnoticed - the racebending.  I'm talking about Grace Park in the role of a mixed Native Hawaiian woman. It's important to note here that Native Hawaiians are NOT Asian, but Polynesian. I've been extremely surprised by the number of people who don't seem to be aware of that.  So, this is not just like a case of a Korean playing a Chinese person, or an Irish person playing a French one. This is racebending, pure and simple. 

                          

Now, yes, Park's character is supposed to be mixed. And, even though she looks very much Asian and not at all Polynesian, there are people who look completely Asian but identify with their Native Hawaiian heritage. But Grace Park is not one of them. Grace Park has no Native Hawaiian heritage and no involvement with Native Hawaiian culture. And the thing is, this happens to Native Hawaiians all the time - on the rare occasions there are Native Hawaiian characters on TV or film, they very rarely seem to go to an actual Native Hawaiian. Just as examples, there's  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kekoa_Tanaka , a mixed Japanese/Native Hawaiian character from Baywatch Hawaii played by a Japanese/Caucasian actress. And  there's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Kaiulani_(film)  , a movie about an extremely important woman in Native Hawaiian history, played by a Native American/white actress. 

In the whole context of Hawaii Five-0, this is especially egregious. Grace Park's character, Kona "Kono" Kalakaua, was in the original series Kono Kalakaua, played by Gilbert Lani Kauhi aka Zulu, a Native Hawaiian. He was probably the first actual Native Hawaiian actor on mainstream US television. Before that, Native Hawaiians were mostly known to the manistream public through images of simple, noble-savage-like overly-sexualized, titillating hula dancers in Hollywood movies, and most often were portrayed by white actresses (male Native Hawaiian characters were mostly nowhere to be found - it was almost always a story of the white sailor's "sexual exploits" with the "simple-minded, openly sexual" Native Hawaiian women). The oiginal Hawaii Five-0, for all its faults, was the first to present a different picture of Native Hawaiians, one that didn't strip them of their humanity. Giving the role to a non-Hawaiian in the remake is sad and ironic indeed. What we basically have in the new Hawaii Five-0 so far is a lot of Native Hawaiian extras walking around, or ocassionaly getting to utter 2 or 3 lines, and two Native Hawaiian characters with speaking lines - Grace Park's Kono and the shaved ice salesman, who gets a couple of lines every 3 or 4 episodes. So the only important Native character is played by an Asian actress. Meanwhile, the name of every episode is in Hawaiian, Hawaiian music is played in the background, Hawaiian sayings quoted, traditional Hawaiian rituals performed - in short, every aspect of the "exotic" Native Hawaiian culture is milked, without an actual Native Hawaiian actor with lines in sight. It just screams appropriation. 

But the worst came in the 6th episode, Ko'olauloa, which has some Native Hawaiians in guest roles. As suspects, of course, and members of a gang of sorts. It's a gang with a code of honor, granted, but the characters are still portrayed as rough, shady and aggressive. The white protagonists, McGarrett and Danny, put them in their place, of course. It's not that the show shoudn't feature any Native Hawaiian criminals or villains or whatever - it's that these are the only Native characters that the show allows actual Native actors to portray. Like so many native populations worldwide, Native Hawaiians are marginalized and stereotyped as lazy, aggressive crooks with a chip on their shoulder. Hawaii Five-0 is most definitely not helping. It could have provided an incredible opportunity for a Native actress, and finally given the public in general and Native Hawaiians in particular a kick-ass Hawaiian character on TV. Instead, the show went for appropriation and racebending.

But what really gets me is how easily people dismiss this whole mess. It seems most people are prepared to tolerate appropriation and racebending of native characters and cultures, even if they'd never put up with this happening to black, Hispanic or Asian characters. I'm not talking about the mainstream, which doesn't care about any of the mentioned goups, I'm talking about people who blog about racism and appropriation in the media, people who care. All have seemingly stayed quiet about Hawaii Five-0. The show has been mentioned a lot in such circles, but always in the context of "yay, more Asians" or "give the Asians something to do, damn it!". Both of these sentiments I agree with, btw- it's great to have more Asian characters on TV. It's just a shame it has to be at the expense of another marginalized minority. And an even greater shame that so few seem to mind it.
Comments 
4th-Nov-2010 06:21 am (UTC)
even if they'd never put up with this happening to black, Hispanic or Asian characters. I'm not talking about the mainstream, which doesn't care about any of the mentioned goups,

Oh really?

It's actually a common practice.

The biggest example right for African Americans is "Undercovers". The two main "African American" characters are both Afro-European and biracial.

It's also quite common to cast Indians in the roles of people from Iraq/Afghanistan/etc and vice versa.

It's a huge problem and you're right, it does get overlooked.
4th-Nov-2010 08:08 am (UTC)
I really hope I didn't come across as implying that racebending is in any way rare when it comes to other POC groups. My point was simply that it seems to be even worse when it comes to Native populations. Even people, blogs and organizations that are dedicated to fighting exactly this sort of thing in society have been completely quiet about this. That says something. Taylor Lautner being cast in Twilight also didn't seem to upset many. And the number of people who are okay with, for example, Megan Fox's desire to play a Native American comic book hero because "she has some Native in her". You just won't see people supporting, say, Jessica Szohr wanting to play a Black character, and she actually has substantial Black ancestry, whereas Megan Fox's Native ancestry is miniscule, if it even exists.

I get what you're saying about "Undercovers", and it's definitely a discussion to be had, but at least the characters are black. Grace Park is not only not Native Hawaiian, but not Polynesan in any way. Imagine a Southern Indian person cast as an African American in "Undercovers".
4th-Nov-2010 07:35 am (UTC)
"It's just a shame it has to be at the expense of another marginalized minority."

Is this why people have been so quiet about all this?

When I first heard of this cast I was very much 'wtf?', but no one seemed to care. I remember a few mentions here but that's about it.
And yeah, as the episodes went on:

"...the name of every episode is in Hawaiian, Hawaiian music is played in the background, Hawaiian sayings quoted, traditional Hawaiian rituals performed - in short, every aspect of the "exotic" Native Hawaiian culture is milked, without an actual Native Hawaiian actor with lines in sight."
4th-Nov-2010 08:21 am (UTC)
"Is this why people have been so quiet about all this?"

I definitely got the impression that a lot of the people I talked to about this were just so excited (and understandably so) to see more POC actors on their screens, that they seemed to be ready to cut this show a whole lot of slack and tried really hard to rationalize away any problematic aspects of it.

People also still seem very hopeful about Grace Park and DDK's characters being payed more attention as time goes on. I mean, I'd really love to see that happen, but, after 7 episodes of the Caan-O'Loughlin show, I have to say I'm not as optimistic.

4th-Nov-2010 08:39 am (UTC)

Actually the possible marginalization of native Hawaiians was what made me had reservations about the show, and since I haven't seen an episode yet, to hear reports like this just confirmed what was wrong with it now.

The reality is this: Having worked in Hawaii for some years, I can attest that a number of mainland Americans are generally ignorant about the 50th state (though many will say that status is disputed of course. :))

Many of them think the stereotypes as you mentioned, but furthermore, many of them are not able to tell the difference between someone of Native Hawaiian descent from someone of Asian migrant Hawaiian descent. There are unfortunately lots of images in US preceptions where the idea of Hawaiians being of East Asian descent rather than that of Polynesian is prevalent (Many of them have probably never seen an image of Queen Lili'uokalani nor do they realize either that there is an actual Hawaiian language as opposed to the pop-culturized Pidigin variation) and it's frankly quite ignorant. So the network is only playing on their ignorance.

5th-Nov-2010 12:23 am (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely think a huge lack of awareness is one of the main reasons for the resounding silence about Hawaii 5-0. Together with some unfortunate views about Natives belonging to the past and there barely being any Natives left (this seems to get applied to any Native populations in the US whenever the issue arises). WHich, I guess, still counts as ignorance, but in so many cases it's willful ignorance or indeifference. So many times, even when you try your hardest to inform people on issues like this one, they'll just dismiss it saying stuff like "there' so few of them anyway, why even bother looking".

And it just makes me sad thinking about how this show actually could've made a positive difference and spread awareness in the mainstream. If only they had cast properly and handled Native (as well as other) issues sensitively... I really did have high hopes for this show, and how much people could learn about Hawaii from it.
4th-Nov-2010 02:23 pm (UTC)
I won't have a chance to read the whole thing until later as I'm at work, but after reading just the first paragraph I had to comment on this:

It's important to note here that Native Hawaiians are NOT Asian, but Polynesian. I've been extremely surprised by the number of people who don't seem to be aware of that.

I'm with you on this one and I find this really astonishing. I was taught this in elementary school and it is amazing to me how many people make this mistake these days.

Will be back later to read the entire post.
4th-Nov-2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
I am not stating an opinion, this is just relevant info to think about:

Although the law allows intentional discrimination (e.g., choosing a worker by sex or age) when a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ), as when a particular lead actor must display these traits, there’s no BFOQ exception for “race.” So, unless “only a woman” or “only someone under 39” can do a job, then it might be okay to discriminate under the BFOQ exception. However, if you remember The Crying Game or Boys Don’t Cry, maybe sex isn’t a BFOQ for lead actors. And it never is legal to choose an actor by race.Reference techflash.com

Actors have to be chosen by what a casting director thinks the person looks like, not by what they actually are. This is the law in the US. A lot of people (not my opinion) think of East Asians, Filipinos, and Hawaiians as "Asian", because most Americans seem to follow the four-race theory, "white, black, Asian, Native American".

Under the old US Census, Asians and Pacific Islanders were one category. This was changed after the US ended the restriction on Asians emigrating. Under the current US Census, Pacific Islander is a separate category. In the 2000 Census, 41.6% of Hawaii's population was Asian, 9.4% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Hawaiian Population Data, Pre 1990 Census Data

You can see the explanation of the jump in the population between 1950 - 1960 is the MC Carran-Walter Act of 1952, and further growth after that based on later legislation. History of Migration and Immigration Laws in the United States

1960 Asian population was less than 1%, it was 0.0031%. (Something to consider when talking about Hollywood practices in 1960 and previously).

(Deleted and re-posted with better formatting and because I noticed an error).
4th-Nov-2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
Race may not be a BFOQ exception, but it's not like casting around that exception is completely unprecedented. There are a number of ways (directly discriminatory or subtly discriminatory) to get around that, such as requesting a "Mickey Rourke type" or "blonde" or even "girl next door type" in the breakdown. An actor of color could submit for these roles but it's a crapshoot as to how "seriously" they would actually be taken and what the "artistic" needs of the production are.

Casting Calls for Twilight clearly read: We are seeking Native American Indian or First Nations actors ONLY for this role – please respect this when making your submissions.

If the intent was to cast Native Hawaiians, similar casting language could have been issued. Or, perhaps, skill requirements such as "fluency in Hawaii Pidgin English" or "knowledge of Hawaiian heritage and culture."

But let's not kid ourselves...two actresses considered for this role were Maggie Q. and Grace Park. Park was probably hired in part because she was recognizable from fan cachet from Battlestar Galactica and "looked" Hawaiian--not because the casting director was committed to exhausting the Native Hawaiian talent pool, first.
5th-Nov-2010 12:34 am (UTC)
Firstly, I agree with jedifreac about the wording and requirements of casting calls.
But, even if we just went along with the looks requirement, do you honestly think Grace Park looks Polynesian?

And yes, we already know that many Americans are quite fuzzy on different races and ethnicities, to put it mildly. But the whole point of this post is that, despite Hollywood wanting us to think otherwise, POC are NOT interchangeable. It's not about what the law or the viewers' ignorance/indifference allow the show to get away with doing. It's about what's right, and what the show SHOULD have done.
5th-Nov-2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
These links are very informative, thank you.

This comm's rules state that it serves as a forum to discuss and question, and therefore it's difficult for many people to be a passive recipient of information without wanting to find out more through discussion.

All information shared on this comm is both necessary and correct - both the links you pass on as well as the links others share.

For the purpose of your interest in providing supplemental information while stating no opinion, the Mods will ensure that comments you make of this nature (ie linking to informative outside reading) are frozen as soon as possible to prevent other members of this comm from commenting to you.

5th-Nov-2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
glockgal:

You freeze my thread when I mention that racebending.com needs to revamp their website because Noah Ringer isn't white?

Hmmmn.

Want some more critique? This post is linked from the front page of racebending.com. Here you link to a fake myspace website as "proof" that an actress who doesn't identify as white, identifies as white:

http://www.racebending.com/v3/media/new-the-last-airbender-trailer-raises-new-questions/

That post is from Feb 2010, but she was public about her ethnic heritage way before then, here is a report from 8/3/2009:

http://www.latina.com/blogs/vivo-por-tivo/top-five-rising-latina-stars-under-25

I could go on and on about the errors on racebending.com that need to be updated. The problem is those errors don't look like errors, they look like propaganda.
5th-Nov-2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
This is not at all to counter your observation about Seychelle Gabriel, because I honestly don't know how she identifies.
But, in regards linking to Latina.com, I'd just like to say that identifying as Latina and identifying as white isn't mutually exclusive. There are many white Latinas. The "Latina" article also features Alexis Bledel and Paz de la Huerta (who is of Spanish, not Latin American descent), for example.
5th-Nov-2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
You freeze my thread when I mention that racebending.com needs to revamp their website because Noah Ringer isn't white?

You mentioned this? I'm rereading the thread I froze and I didn't see that. Ah! Found it now. But no I didn't freeze the thread for that reason at all. The organizers have been discussing this new news about Ringer. I froze the thread because I noticed that:

it's difficult for many people to be a passive recipient of information without wanting to find out more through discussion.

All information shared on this comm is both necessary and correct - both the links you pass on as well as the links others share.

For the purpose of your interest in providing supplemental information while stating no opinion, the Mods will ensure that comments you make of this nature (ie linking to informative outside reading) are frozen as soon as possible to prevent other members of this comm from commenting to you.
----

The critiques you have are good to know and definitely something to bring up with my fellow organizers. We're currently short-staffed and are always looking for volunteers - particularly in keeping the website up-to-date. If you would like to help, please drop me an email: info@racebending.com.

Edited at 2010-11-05 10:34 pm (UTC)
7th-Nov-2010 03:35 am (UTC)
A couple days late to the party, but just throwing in my two cents as a white girl who grew up in Hawai'i, and I've already mentioned this in the Princess Ka'iulani post that happened way back when, but...

HAWAI'I HAS A BUNCH OF REALLY GOOD THEATER PROGRAMS AT BOTH THE MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, AND PROFESSIONAL LEVELS, AND IT HAS A BUNCH OF LOCAL ACTORS WHO REALLY WANT TO ACT AND MAKE ACTING THEIR LIFE AND THEY END UP PERFORMING THINGS LIKE SHAKESPEARE HAWAI'I STYLE BECAUSE THERE AREN'T MANY PLAYS (EXCEPT THOSE WRITTEN BY LOCAL WRITERS) THAT FEATURE NATIVE HAWAIIAN OR OTHER POLYNESIAN CHARACTERS; AND FOR MANY HAWAIIANS AND OTHER LOCALS, HAWAI'I IS OUR HOME, AND OUR ISLAND IS OUR WORLD, SO BETWEEN GETTING A LOCAL JOB AND MOVING TO THE MAINLAND WHERE SUCCESS ISN'T GUARANTEED DUE TO THE WHOLE "CAUCASIAN OR OTHER ETHNICITY" DILEMMA YOU CAN BET THAT A LOT OF ACTORS WOULD RATHER STAY THAN LEAVE THEIR FAMILY AND THEIR HOME BECAUSE FACE IT, WHEN YOU GROW UP ON AN ISLAND THAT TAKES LESS THAN TWO HOURS TO GET FROM ANY POINT A TO ANY POINT B, YOU GET PRETTY ATTACHED TO IT. SO WHEN NATIVE HAWAIIAN ROLES ARE BEING GIVEN TO NON-NATIVE HAWAIIAN ACTORS WHEN THE STORY IS CENTERED AROUND HAWAI'I AND FILMING TAKES PLACE IN HAWAI'I, MEANING LOCAL ACTORS WHO COULDN'T MOVE TO THE MAINLAND FOR VARIOUS REASONS COULD ACTUALLY TAKE PART IN IT BUT THEY CAN'T BECAUSE APPARENTLY THEY'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY THEMSELVES?

FUCK THAT.

Edited at 2010-11-07 03:41 am (UTC)
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