Princess Ka’iulani, the movie (?!)

There’s a new movie coming out about  Princess Ka’iulani (Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn) called Princess Kai’ulani: United by Love, Divided by Duty. It’s a historical narrative that looks at both the personal and political life of the “last” princess of Hawai’i, throwing in a fictional sexy love story with an English suitor for good measure.

Princess Ka’iulani is not as iconic as King Kamehameha or perhaps, Queen Liliu’okalani, but her image is revered and beloved among Native Hawaiians for her beauty and achievements. She was an accomplished surfer and swimmer, talented in hula, singing, and the ‘ukelele, and was multilingual in Hawaiian, French, German, and English. More importantly, she petitioned for her throne (at the age of 17!) and the sovereign rights of her people by directly addressing the American government and people with a speaking tour of the U.S.

Taught to regard Native Hawaiians as barbarians and savages, Princess Ka’iulani’s arrival genuinely astonished the American public. They were not expecting a tall, beautiful young woman with a British accent demanding her crown back. While the U.S. did not relinquish it’s grip on Hawai’i, Princess Ka’iulani forever changed their perception of who Hawaiians were ….(too bad this didn’t last.)

Princess Ka’iulani
When I was little, this was one of my very favorite pictures to look at.
Princess Ka’iulani in England.
Princess Ka’iulani (not sure where she was here).

While the production of the film had met with much resistance from Native Hawaiian groups, for obvious reasons (see below), the audience response at the Hawai’i International Film Festival was actually very positive. Apparently the film is for the most part, historically correct and somewhat well-done. Wow! That’s a first for Hollywood.

Initial poster mock-up, before protests over the title. The title was meant to be ironic, but hardly anyone outside of Hawai’i would have been able to put it into historical context – making it inappropriate.

It’s pretty lame that the director had promised the Native Hawaiian community that Ka’iulani would be played by a Native Hawaiian actor, and then he went and cast someone non-Native Hawaiian – but at least she’s an indigenous actor, and a fairly good one (from what reviews have said). And also, from what I’ve read, the Hawaiian language is very prominent in this film, which is wonderful – considering how many people continue to make fun of what they think “Hawaiian” is, a language that was banned in Hawai’i schools by the American territorial government.

I’m not so thrilled with the final poster, which makes it look like a cheesy Lifetime movie, or “chick flick.” It doesn’t have any of the drama of the “barbarian” mock up. Also, the title is terrible! It sounds like a “straight to DVD” movie. Which I think it is, as you can see the whole movie online apparently – but I’ll leave you with a link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yY9P9LXXmNY

I’m not sure if I will see it myself, as I know it will get me all riled up, but I’m genuinely glad to see filmmakers attempting to address the complexity of Hawaiian history, as well as honoring the life of a remarkable person. I know it’s cheesy to end with a quote from Princess Ka’iulani, but I like this one:

“I am all Hawaiian. I love this country of mine. It’s sky, it’s trees, it’s people, it’s food – a longing which never passed away. When I came home at last from England, I ran about like a mad thing… I asked for all native things – poi, taro, even the raw fish we eat. You would think that a girl educated in England would shrink from that at least. My Aunt, the Queen, was delighted. She said, “That’s right. You are a good Hawaiian.”

* If you are curious at all, a really good website to check out is: http://www.thekaiulaniproject.com/about_princess_kaiulani.htm

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4 thoughts on “Princess Ka’iulani, the movie (?!)

  1. Aloha –
    Actually, there is no historic documentation (yet, at any rate) to indicate Ka’iulani was ever taught
    hula; in her generation, hula would be performed in her honor, but she would be the royal spectator, not participant. The random inclusion of Ms. Kilcher dancing a snatch of hula in the film will no doubt perpetuate this impression further…one among many other inaccuracies.

  2. People have misunderstandings of the way hula cultural practice worked – it wasn’t an activity you “took a course” in, like painting, or ballroom dancing, or some other “interest”. It wasn’t an “on your own” thing.
    You grew up in halau, as part of a tradition you were raised in, a committed group with a kumu. The later idea of hula “studios” and “taking hula lessons” is alien to Hawaiian hula tradition. The hula kahiko and even hula ku’i of Kalakaua’s time are not the same as what many people understand as hula now. So… it remains highly unlikely Ka’iulani physically learned hula.
    The cultural practices Ka’iulani did engage in that are documented are of a different type – watersports…wa’a pulling and surfing. Her activities in these areas is in line with traditional ali’i practice. It would be delightful, of course, if anything is ever found to document Ka’iulani’s personal interest in hula. She certainly would have been aware of it thanks to her Uncle’s efforts to revive its public practice.

  3. Referring to “cultural activities,” doesn’t mean that I’m suggesting that hula is a “course” one can take, or something that Princess Ka’iulani merely dabbled in on her own. My point was that what one does in their own intimate space isn’t always documented or observed. I have several friends who only dance the hula with their families (which is an intimate and private space), or study with a kumu, but choose not to perform with their halau. If they don’t perform with their halau publicly, than their involvement wouldn’t necessarily be documented.

    Again, you’re probably right, which I think is what you want to hear – but in learning more about my own family history in Hawai’i during Princess Ka’iulani’s time period, it has usually revealed more historical surprises than confirmations of my assumptions. It’s probably unlikely Princess Kai’ulani ever danced the hula, but not impossible.

    Also, I appreciate your comments, but I’m not sure why you’ve presumed to “educate” me about the hula, when it’s not clear to me how you determined from my blog that my fundamental understanding of it is lacking or incorrect? I’ve never actually written about the hula, and my previous comment doesn’t necessarily betray an ignorance of it. It seems like you’re inferring more than what was written here.

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