This 1966 epic based on the popular novel may prove an interesting case study for exploited films about natives. Set in the early 1800’s Abner Hale played by Max von Sydow, is a young bible thumping missionary who is offered a conditional mission in Hawaii but only if he is able marry a good Christian girl before venturing from Boston. Through church contacts Abner Hale is virtually forced into courting Jerusha Bromley played by Julie Andrews. Jerusha is full of life but at twenty-two her father is eager to marry her off, despite knowing she yearns for a whaler at sea called Capt. Rafer Hoxworth. Jerusha’s father hides Rafer’s letters, and in her loneliness Jerusha agrees to marry the stern preacher despite being an ill suited match. The mission comes as the request by Koeki, the future ruler of Maui, who wants to see his people saved. Koeki, tells us of the cultural legends of his descendants voyaging from Bora Bora to Hawaii. Today we know this particular migrant path never happened. One might forgive this clerical mistake given the period except for the fact that it’s repeated no less than five times.

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Upon landing in a “savage” Hawaii, these puritans are shocked by the nudity and pagan traditions of the Hawaiians. Jerusha instantly makes friends with the queen, and sets about trying her best to fit in harmony with this new culture; while Abner challenges anything he views as unchristian, creating a rift in their marriage and conflict with the locals. The film covers about a twenty-year period from the beginning of missionary contact to the last Hawaiian King. The film includes everything from incest, to pestilence, to colonialism, to shark attacks.

In 1973 Marlon Brando boycotted the Academy Awards, he was nominated for his role in The Godfather. He send in his place a young Apache named Sacheen Littlefeather who upon Brando’s request rejected his Oscar with a speech he had written condemning the treatment of Native Americans in film. It was a shocking event, and makes for a good Youtube clip. Perhaps, he had seen Hawaii, because the treatment of Hawaiian in the film is on par if not worse than Native American portrayals of the day. Hawaii was nominated for seven Academy Awards, a fact that makes me want to go back in time to grab Littlefeather, then go back further in time and for her to scold the Academy for commemorating such a unbearable racist piece of American film history.

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For one who thought Julie Andrew could do no wrong, even after seeing the Princess Diaries, I was in for a rude awakening.  The majority of the Hawaiian characters in the film are dressed in terrible wigs and shown as being demanding and savage.

I viewed the film whist writing a paper on cultural traumas of colonialesque photography, but my interest didn’t make the film tolerable. Hawaii is an unbelievable excruciating film, if given the unlikely ultimatum of a violent painful death or another viewing of the film- I would be in seventy pieces quicker than you could say Bora Bora. 

If you’re into sadism, Simply Media is re-releasing this film, if you aren’t interesting in inflicting self-pain I recommend watching anything else.

Hawaii is now available on DVD via Simply Media.

 

By Riley Arthur

Riley Arthur is an American photographer and journalist living in Preston.