The most egregious thing people are annoyed with is the fact that Emma Stone, a white actress with no known link to Hawaiian culture or native Hawaiian heritage, was cast as Allison Ng, a multiracial Pacific Islander character. Most have called on an Asian actress to play the role, but to be really specific (and a lot more truthful to the character), the role should go to someone who is actually a multiracial Asian and/or multiracial Pacific Islander actress The Nerds of Color’s Keith Chow lists several notable actresses, such as Chloe Bennett, Shannyn Sossamon (who does have native Hawaiian ancestry) and Olivia Munn, who could have been perfect for the role.
Another factor Multiracial Asian Families’ Sharon H. Chang brought up is that the film uses the hapa identity as a way to wedge between the indigenous people of Hawaii and white supremacy. She quoted a 2014 article she wrote, “Say Hapa with Care”:
The hapa of [Native Hawaiian] people stands in stark contrast to a widely commodified version, which lumps together mixed-race Asians and Pacific Islanders, and then somehow magically loses the Pacific Islander part. This is no accident (whether intentional or not). It stems from a history that has sought to forget and remove Native peoples for centuries.
Another issue of contention: the usage of sovereignty group leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, who seems to act as the film’s distillation of Hawaiian culture, apart from Stone’s character. Nate Chinen wrote for Slate how Kanahele’s involvement seems to go against the ideals of his group, the Nation of Hawai’i. I’d say from my personal opinion that I’d agree, especially since it seems like Kanahele, who has disagreed vehemently with the film’s criticism, is being used by Crowe as that friend that says what they’re doing is okay, like how people say, “I have [insert non-white ethnicity] friends, so I’m not being disrespectful.”
All of this discussion led to Crowe himself apologizing for giving the role to Stone, stating that he originally based the character of Allison on a woman he knew in real life. As he wrote on his website:
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.
Crowe also said he was “grateful” for the discussion that has taken place because of Aloha:
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.
Well, at least he apologized. That’s something, right? And perhaps he’s learned something from it. However, as Jenn from Reappropriate states, just because the character might be frustrated with her looks doesn’t make it okay for the character to be played by a white woman, since all it does is erase the complexities that honor the character and the real life woman she’s based on.
Emma Stone as Allison Ng. Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment