Another day, another real life hero of color whitewashed out of existence by Hollywood!
A new movie called Ni’ihau, based on the true story of an incident from World War II that led to the mass internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans, is currently in the works. Seeing as how 1) it’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and 2) Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim crusade has raised fears that hearken back to said internment, Ni’ihau seems like an interesting and important historical topic to revisit as a film at first glance.
The hero of this tale is native Hawaiian and noted non-Caucusian Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele. Kanahele is famous for having apprehended Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi, who crash-landed in Ni-ihau after taking part in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Guess who is playing him? Yep, Shameless actor and white man Zack McGowan, pulling his very own Emma Stone. (He’s also executive producing.)
Here’s a comparison. You can see the resemblance!
It’s a pretty wild bit of whitewashing, which is why this quote from one of the film’s producers, Ken Petrie, is so stunning.
Petrie told Deadline, “there is a weight to be shouldered, and the material requires the utmost care and authenticity.” (Emphasis mine.)
Words fail me.
Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s take a moment to look at this statement from director Gabriel Robertson:
“These characters, once placed in this situation, were driven by their initial instincts: to help a stranger in need. Indeed, it wasn’t until circumstance forced their hands that the characters desperately turned to violence.”
This dichotomy between the “instinct” for hospitality and the ensuing violence seems tinted by the eternal, racist concept of the noble savage. Not only is the film erasing an actual native Hawaiian hero from the story, but it will most likely degrade indigenous people in general, reducing them to happy nice island people who turn to violence. Great!
And yes, the internet is as mad about this as I am, thank you for asking: