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.)
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.
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