“Aloha” director Cameron Crowe has issued an apology for casting Emma Stone, who is white, to play a character who is part Native Hawaiian and part Chinese.
Crowe was slammed by many for the casting choice. In a Daily Beast review entitled “The Unbearable Whiteness of Cameron Crowe’s ‘Aloha’: A Hawaii-Set Film Starring Asian Emma Stone,” critic Jen Yamato wrote, “Crowe might’ve even gotten away with it if he’d cast any of his supporting characters with minorities, more accurately repping the ethnic makeup of the islands. Instead, his ‘love letter’ to Hawaii feels about as authentic as a mainlander’s #TBT to that one exotic Oahu vacay years ago, sipping Mai Tais on the beach at sunset while watching the hula show.”
The practice of whitewashing characters has certainly received attention in recent years, whether it be outcry over casting Rooney Mara to play Tiger Lily in the upcoming “Pan,” Johnny Depp as Tonto in a remake of “The Lone Ranger,” Catherine Zeta-Jones as Griselda Blanco in the coming production of “The Godmother,” or most recently, Adam Sandler in redface on the set of “The Ridiculous Six.”
So, was this simply a case of “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission?” In the apology Crowe posted on his Web site Tuesday night, it appears that Stone was a deliberate choice:
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. [emphasis ours]
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.
Yamato wasn’t willing to let Crowe off the hook, even after factoring in Kanahele’s involvement in the film. Kanahele is a prominent Hawaiian nationalist. Wrote Yamato:
Unfortunately, the plot thread involving Kanahele and the Native Hawaiian cause dissipates like the mythological Menehune into the misty Hawaiian night. Aloha’s minority characters take the backseat, left to look for signs in the sky as [Bradley] Cooper’s flawed hero saves them from a fate of his own making, transformed by the island’s mana, and by love. More tellingly, Kanahele relents on his moral high ground and trades his people’s blessing for two mountains and better cellphone reception. Welcome to Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii.
Complex points out that “Aloha” may not be the first time Crowe has cast a white actress to play an Asian character. They cite the example of Crowe’s new Showtime movie, “Roadies,” which features Jacqueline Byers as Natalie Shin. Shin is a typically Korean last name.