What Does Hollywood Know about Aloha

Yufei Zhu

Comm 206


Boundary between cultures are perhaps more abstract than the highly abstract concept “culture” itself. But when the breach of such boundaries goes far enough to constitute cultural appropriation, the case often becomes quite clear. By definition, cultural appropriation takes place when one culture borrows or imitates values and embodiments of other cultures superficially (Rogers, 2006, p.475). In other words, one culture takes the appearance of other cultures without their substance. Cultural appropriation is a partial form of cultural communication, as it is undertaken on unequal playfield. While in cultural exchange interactions between cultures are reciprocal—meaning both cultures give and take, in cultural appropriation the dominant culture exploit the subordinate cultures without reciprocity, permission or even proper representation, to the degree that the subordinate cultures are provoked to protest (Rogers, 2006, p.477).

The recent Hollywood film Aloha is one such example. The film tells the triangle story between one white man, who is a military contractor and two white woman on Hawaii. With the narrative the native people seem to have no quarrel. However, when the untitled film completed its production and the crew decided to take the title ‘Aloha’, Native Hawaiians get really upset (Kellener, 2015). These natives are not Americans and Japanese who call Hawaii their home, but Native Hawaiians known as Kanaka Maoli, the native indigenous Polynesian people who inhabited the land before the Colonial Era. (Mock, 2015) Aloha is a word that possesses profound meaning in their culture. The first part of the word, alo, means the front of a person, and the second part ha means our breath; put together, the word connotes the exchange of breath of life when people meet and communicate in front of each other. (Mock, 2015)

But Hollywood has no care for such exchange. Aloha is taken away from the people who coined the word and hold it sacred, only to be disposed as the title of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy. Such act could be tolerated if the narrative actively engages with Native Hawaiian culture and delve into the significance of the word. Unfortunately, it did not. The three principal characters are all white, and Hawaii is no more than the exotic land where their love story takes place. The title and narrative and casting of the film shows Hollywood’s total disregard for Hawaiian culture’s substance while exploiting its appearance. Native Hawaiian writer Janet Mock (2015) comments incisively on the matter, “What’s difficult about being from Hawaii is that everyone has a postcard view of your home.” Indeed, for the mass the cultural image of Hawaii has long been that of a beautiful, carefree, almost otherworldly paradise. What Hawaii really is under that face, they care as much as the Hollywood wise guys do.

This is not Hollywood’s first offense of cultural appropriation on Hawaii. The 2011 The Descendants, like Aloha, cast all its principal characters with white actors/actresses and featured Hawaii as an exotic sight like its protagonist George Clooney. In fact, Hollywood made quite a habit of cultural appropriation ever since its existence. The acclaimed classic All Quiet on the Western Front(1930) tells the story of World War I on the German side with American actors, and without a single German word; likewise, the cultural monument Milk(2008) tells the story of the first open-gay elected official with a straight-straight cast. Challenging this tradition of cultural banditry are auteurs like Clint Eastwood, who made two films about the battle of Iwo Jima, one from the American side and the other from the Japanese side—and with a pure Japanese cast. This contrast renders both alarms and comfort. Hollywood knows how to rightly represent other cultures, and when it does it makes wonderful films. However, the problem that plagues the industry is that too many filmmakers do not care enough to portray other cultures authentically. It is the high time for the industry to realize that cultural appropriation is devoid of meaning and culture, and movies devoid of meaning and culture are bad cultures—in the end, people watch films because they communicate the experience of humanity, which is culture.


Rogers, R. (2006) “A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation,” Communication Theory, 16, 474-503.

Kellener, J. (2015) Some Native Hawaiians disapprove of ‘Aloha’ movie title. Associated Press. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/2a4845eea26b4d31b0d2b03ebe3d848f/some-native-hawaiians-disapprove-aloha-movie-title

Mock, J. (2015) “Aloha” Movie: Hollywood’s Historical Misappropriation of Hawaiian Language. Janet Mock. Retrieved from http://janetmock.com/2015/05/08/aloha-movie-hollywoods-historical-appropriation-of-hawaiian-language-culture/


News Framing of Debates Over the Confederate Flag

The conflict around the confederate flag emerged shortly after the Charleston shooting on June 17th and has sparked national debate settled only after the removal of the flag from South Carolina Capitol House on July 10th. The news story involves the presence of the Confederate Flag and its relation within the recent Charleston shooting event. Many governmental officials and citizens felt that the Confederate Flag was outdated, and that it built onto the ongoing race problem in America. As a result, the South Carolina local government signed legislation removing the flag from the Statehouse. In response, major news outlets discussed this event’s implications and its role within a progressive era.

Major cable networks has given lots of attention to the story. Fox News has made extensive televised and written coverage of the story during its lifespan. Interestingly, while partisan tension pertaining removal of the flag has been heated, coverage from Fox News emphasizes one consistent theme—how does racism relate to confederate flag.  Both implicitly and explicitly, the network’s coverage points out that it does not. A news article calls removal of the flag “political correctness run amok.” Krauthammer goes further to comment on Fox’s news program that the removal of the flag is irrelevant to Charleston massacre, which would have happened anyway. In his opinion, removal of the flag is just the standard liberal impulse to do something when people don’t know what to do. The discussion further includes a quote from president Obama on racism, calling it something in the gene of Americans. Criticizing the quote, the anchors conclude that removal of the flag has little to do with deeper issue of racism, around which the event supposedly evolves. And it is apparent that other political sides of the issue has been omitted or downplayed in Fox’s discourse.

On MSNBC there are about 400 stories around the Confederate Flag. They frame the story as an issue of racism and thus a political issue – there’s a sensitive debate arguing about the removal from the statehouse grounds. They talk about rethinking the placement of Confederate symbols, and eliminating merchandise that relates to the symbol. They mention how the Republican Party has started, since the Charleston shooting, thinking about the possible racial implications that the Confederate flag and symbol might have, when before they didn’t see it even as something to be considered a problem. Videos in the news outlet website present ideas about a “backlash” that may be possible from taking the Confederate Flag down, how members of the KKK or other protestors might create revolt because of this. These protestors are used to frame the event as a racial issue.

Over on CNN, there are about 300 stories on the confederate flag after June 17th 2015, with at least 5 stories generated per day on the topic. Before that, stories on the confederate flag only occurred once or twice a month. Before the shooting of June 17th, stories that mentioned the confederate flag didn’t go into much detail about its racial significance, although sometimes briefly mentioned how for some it was racially divisive and for others a symbol of heritage.

After June 17th 2015, the flag is pointed as being a symbol of racial segregation. There are mention of stories about the history of the flag and its significance against racial diversity. There are statements in articles explicitly saying that the flag was designed for racism: “The White Man’s Flag” (http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1252204). There is a strong agreement to taking down the Confederate Flag. Overall, CNN frames the issue of the Confederate Flag as a strong racial issue that needs to be resolved, and should have been resolved long ago.

Our findings suggest that while all networks covered the story extensively, their different framing scheme results in representation of the story in quite different lights. Resorting more often to the people’s response, MSNBC did not make a clear stance. Trying to sever ideological issue of racism from the politics of confederate flag, Fox News disapproves of removal of the flag as a response to Charleston shooting. CNN expressly frames the shooting as a racist issue, thus taking a more leftist stance. Hence, audience who view these different discourses would conceivably form different views of the issue, as the facts and opinions presented vary greatly.