Writer/director Cameron Crowe has issued an apology for the casting of Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a one-quarter Hawaiian character in his latest film Aloha. The reason I call this “something like an apology” in my headline is because it seems to come with a few caveats such as how it goes out to those “who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice”. Here’s what Crowe had to say on his personal website:
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 Â¼ 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’s explanation for the casting is no surprise and to say it’s based on a “real-life” person he met is fine. Problem is, movies aren’t real life. The audience isn’t on your journey of exploration, Crowe happened upon this person in a natural way, audiences watching Aloha were introduced to her as a reality, not a coincidence. Here’s how I wrote about Stone as Allison in my review and the way the film approaches the idea this film is “about Hawaii” as Crowe is still alleging:
Then there’s the title, an allusion to the setting and the rich history of Hawaii and its people. In some respects Crowe really nails this, but for the most part it feels like a movie where he is just tossing in things he read in a book one time. One scene features Brian and Allison walking to negotiate a deal with Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian activist going by his actual name in the film. On the way, in mid-argument, the two are moved by the sounds of nature around them and Allison says, “This place has a lot of ‘mana’.” It’s a scene that’s equal parts magical and stomach-churning. It’s easy enough to recognize Allison is a good egg, but anyone that has to consistently remind everyone she meets that she’s one-quarter Hawaiian is hiding something. More to the point, tell me why Allison Ng couldn’t have been played by an actual Hawaiian. Someone that didn’t need to constantly remind people about her heritage. It’s this level of falseness that reverberates throughout the entire movie.
When it comes to the “about Hawaii” aspect, Crowe, like Sony, is using the email hack as an excuse to defend the film. Sony issued a statement last month when the race controversy was seemingly coming to a head saying, “While some have been quick to judge a movie they haven’t seen and a script they haven’t read, the film Aloha respectfully showcases the spirit and culture of the Hawaiian people. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe spent years researching this project and many months on location in Hawaii, cultivating relationships with leading local voices. He earned the trust of many Hawaiian community leaders, including Dennis ‘Bumpy’ Kanahele, who plays a key role in the film.”
Crowe’s sentiments read very much the same:
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.
I’ll agree the first half of the film feels like it’s paying some measure of respect toward Hawaii and its traditions and culture, but the second half throws pretty much all that out the window. Using the “Sony Hack” as an excuse is just that, an excuse, and the fact Crowe opens his apology with the above paragraph suggests he’s not really apologizing, but still sticking to the idea this is merely a misunderstood movie.
He speaks to presenting Hawaiian locals with “many jobs for over four months” and of Stone’s research into the character, which is to say it all sounds defensive and very passive aggressive. To paraphrase it sounds more like: “I’m sorry we brought these jobs to Hawaii for four months and that you were offended by Emma Stone’s great performance. I’m sorry you just don’t get this misunderstood movie, but I’m grateful for the conversation.”
The thing, for me, is not about misunderstanding the movie or necessarily being offended by Emma Stone portraying Allison Ng, but the fact the character felt false. Stone’s performance is good, as were the performances from Rachel McAdams and Bradley Cooper. But the character felt false and like I said in my review, that falseness was felt throughout the movie.
Was conversation with this real-life person Crowe met a constant reminder of how she was one-quarter Hawaiian? Is she constantly reminding us about her knowledge of Hawaiian culture? Did she dye her red hair blonde and fall in love with the white defense contractor? Was she an Air Force pilot? Because this is the Allison Ng audiences met, not the real-life red head Cameron Crowe is referring to.
Movies are where real life ends and fictional worlds begin, it’s why I so infrequently get offended by films (and TV shows) but more just disappointed and frustrated when filmmakers mess up what could have been a good thing and Aloha has a lot of good in it… It also has a lot of bad.