June 11, 2007

Pocahontas the Hawaiian princess

'Be rebellious against failure'

An interview with Q'orianka Kilcher, star of upcoming Princess Kaiulani film"That looks like that girl who played Pocahontas," said the coat check woman at the San Francisco Opera House as a striking young woman in a red evening gown passed by.

It was. "That girl who played Pocahontas" in the 2005 film "The New World"--17-year-old actress Q'Orianka Kilcher--is now a young woman, with a new film and an articulate vision of the new world she wants to help create.

The film, based on the life of Princess Victoria Kaiulani of Hawaii, will be directed by Marc Forby and is scheduled for international release in late 2008.
Comment:  I guess the producers couldn't find a single Hawaiian girl to play Princess Victoria Kaiulani. After all, there are only about 900,000 people who are all or part natiive Hawaiian.

"Kilcher is Quechua-Huachipaeri on her Peruvian father's side and Swiss-Alaskan on her mother's side," notes the article. Since all indigenous people look and act alike, that's close enough, right?


Anonymous said...

I am so over Q'rianka getting Native parts over real Natives.

Anonymous said...


Your blog is great but I disagree with you about this one. By your logic, a European actress of Italian ancestry shouldn't be allowed to play an Englishwoman. Plus the article says that Native Hawaiian community leaders WANTED Q'orianka to play the part because of her activism. As for Qorianka not being Native, well, technically South American Native people are just as "Native" to this continent as Natives in the north. But I do agree absolutely that we need more Native actresses out there, Native Hawaiian, Cherokee, Lakota, Oneida, etc. so that more Native actresses can be cast in both Native AND non-Native roles. If she's Native and wants to play an Italian, sure why not?

Rob said...

I disagree with your disagreement. ;-)

1) Italians and Britishers are different nationalities but the same ethnicity. Native Hawaiians and Native Americans are different ethnicities as well as different nationalities.

2) Q'orianka's activism is a relatively poor reason to choose her as an actress. It suggests the filmmakers are trying to make a statement about Hawaiian politics rather than produce a quality film.

3) I didn't say Q'orianka was less Native because of her South American roots. I would've posted the same thing if she were Cherokee or Navajo.

4) I'm not a purist who says every Native role must be filled by a Native and not, say, a Latino or dark-skinned Mediterranean type. But I'd say the major roles should be.

This movie probably will be the public's primary view of Hawaiian people and culture for a generation to come. Given that level of exposure, this is exactly when filmmakers should strive to be authentic in everything--the casting as well as the story, the settings, etc.

Marc Forby said...

Rob, we searched for a Hawaiian actress for two years and worked with one in particular for an additional year. In the end, Q'orianka got the role because of her acting ability. We'd rather people walk out of the theatre educated about the overthrow than saying "what a terrible actress." Yes, there are thousands of part-Hawaiian women but if none come forward with talent we cannot find them.

I cannot tell you how deeply I care about this subject matter so I thank you for your thoughts.



Marc Forby said...

Incidentally, we did cast a part Hawaiian girl to play Ka'iulani for the first third of the movie and probably half the shooting schedule. Her name is Kaimana Paaluhi. She was cast, in part, because of her ethnicity and it is not without compromise. Kaimana is beautiful, has great screen presence but has no acting experience. We will have to work hard with her but ultimately we believe audiences are more forgiving with child actors. Hopefully she will grow into being a prominent Hawaiian actress for future filmmakers.

Rob said...

Hmm. Well, at least you searched for a Hawaiian actress before choosing Q'orianka.

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in Hawaii and come from Native Hawaiian and Native American background and speak the Native Hawaiian language. I first heard about this film almost 2 years ago and contacted Marc Forby. I shared with him my acting background which includes over 15 years of theatre as well as television and film roles, and my desire just for the chance to audition for this amazing role. I am from the island where Princess Kaiulani passed and know very well of her background and am the age to play her as an adult.
He said he would have the casting director contact me when the auditions were set. I followed up with him a few times over the course of a year and was told they weren't casting yet, etc...
I was never even given a chance, which is quite frustrating. Then to read that Miss Kilcher was "offered" the role, and that they searched for a Native Hawaiian to play the role, but couldn't find one. Unfortunately, this is flat out lie and it is also not correct for them to state that the Native Hawaiian community WANTED Kilcher to play the part. This was stated because one Native Hawaiian women made a statement that she would like Kilcher to play the role. In reality, there are quite a few Native Hawaiians that are very upset with this decision. Of course, it just adds to the misconception of our people and culture. As well as stating Kilcher is not a very good actress, especially her portrayal of Pocahontas.
But, nothing can be done now.

Marc Forby said...

With regard to the search we did the following:

1) Published an article in the Star Bulletin in 2005
2) Did an open call at the PK hotel
3) Did an interview over the local radio calling for auditions
4) Auditioned the drama department at Kamehameha schools
5) Used the services of the top two casting directors in Oahu, Ms. Fishburn and Mrs Doversola
6) Auditioned clients of print modelling agencies and Kathy Muller agency (which lead us to Kaimana)
7) Contacted over 20 hula halaus in Oahu
8) Contacted hula halaus in California
9) Auditioned a Hawaiian athlete who had a great look but no experience
10) Casted a Hawaiian girl in 2005 and announced it in the press, trained her for one year before realizing she could not carry the film.
11) Offered the role in December of 2005 to a Hawaiian actress in Hollywood who later bowed out.
12) I even tried cast a cousin of mine who is Hawaiian but she did think she could act.
There were many other efforts made to secure a Hawaiian in both roles but unfortunately the pool is small and believe or not almost none have representation. It's a very tough situation.

Marc Forby said...

Dear Anonymous,
I'm sorry you feel that you were not given a chance. There are other factors involved. We were looking for someone aged 17 and I recall that you were older. I have never knowingly dismissed a good candidate. I wanted nothing more than a Hawaiian actress to play Ka'iulani at 17 and frankly it would only make my life easier to go with a Hawaiian. I know how terribly hard it is to be rejected. Right now I am fighting to keep the film alive as very few financiers are interested in this story. So this may be all moot.

I am proud of discovering Kaimana and I think she will do you proud despite what you may think of me.

Feel free to contact me for any specific reasons of your not receiving an audition for Ka'iulani. (Maybe you are someone else.) There are a large number of Hawaiian roles yet to be casted. As previously mentioned we will not have a casting director for those roles until October when we start crewing.



Rob said...

Some facts to add to this debate--namely, population stats from the 2000 Census:


Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone or in combination with one or more other races: 874,414.

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone: 398,835.

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone or in combination, female, age 15-19: 42,038.

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone or in combination, female, age 20-24: 39,701.

Marc Forby said...

That looks correct to me Rob. But Ka'iulani was hapa. Hapa meaning Hawaiian and European. I know that Q'Orianka is not a Hawaiian native but the "look" of a hapa is unique. Incidentally, the meaning of hapa has changed today and includes Hawaiian mixed with Asian etc. However, to portray a 19th century hapa, one would not cast Kelly Hu even though she has Hawaiian blood.

I'm not saying Q'orianka is a hapa but I am illustrating how hard this role is to cast before you consider acting ability.

Rob said...

The statistics include those who qualify as hapa.

Finding someone who's part Hawaiian and part white should be easier than finding someone who's pure Hawaiian, shouldn't it?


hapa adj. racially mixed, esp. with an Asian racial background.

Marc Forby said...

It's harder than I expected because most look either like my wife (Filipino) or skew too Chinese/Japanese.

Anonymous said...

Rob -

I noticed that you biography had no mention what so ever about your having lived in the Islands... How could you possibly give your opinion about something you know nothing about? Just because someone is Hawaiian or Hapa, it does not mean that they 1. can act worth a damn and 2. are in the least interested in acting in this or any other film.

I lived in the Islands for more than 20 years, graduated from UH and raised three Hapa children there. In addition, I have many terrific friends of all ethnic backgrounds that I am staying in touch with, and none of them have any wish to be movie stars.

And, an Italian and an Englishman are certainly NOT of the same ethnicity! I am European and can assure you that, although some of the countries in Europe have similar ethnicities, Italians and British folks are nothing alike.

Anonymous said...

Marc knows exactly what will make this film work in what SHORT time he has to do it. Q'orianka is breathtaking, has the "hapa look" and is able to portray our Princess with dignity and honor and requires less effort to work with. Marc has done his homework, found investors and is extremely sensitive about the issues of both the past and present. If there are Hawaiians who are upset about not making the cut or having the chance to be a part of this film...do your homework and start your own production. You can do it. I wish you all success!! Momi.

Rob said...

Re "I noticed that you(r) biography had no mention what so ever about your having lived in the Islands...":

I haven't lived in Hawaii, but I've visited there twice. Does that count?

More to the point, who says this is solely a Hawaiian issue and not a Native issue? I've studied Native issues for almost 20 years. I work for a Native business. How about you? Or Marc Forby?

Until you have as much experience as I do addressing Native issues in Hollywood, spare me your opinions about my background. I'd say I'm as qualified as anyone to speak on the subject of using Native actors in Native-themed movies. My opinion is above, and I'm sticking with it.

P.S. "Ethnicity" is a somewhat nebulous term. To be more precise, Britishers and Italians belong to the same race: Caucasian. That's not true of Q'orianka Kilcher and Princess Kaiulani.

Rob said...

Incidentally, my brother lived in Hawaii for several years. My college roommate was Hawaiian. So I'm not totally unfamiliar with Hawaiian issues.

Regarding how little time Forby has or how hard it is to work with Hawaiian actresses, these are excuses, not reasons. They don't impress me. No one's forcing Forby to make this movie this way.

I'll use an (extreme) example to make my point. If you can't find a black actor to play Martin Luther King Jr., the solution isn't use a white actor in blackface. It's to stop making the movie until you can find a black actor.

Forby obviously made some effort to find a Hawaiian actress. The question is whether he made enough of an effort. Because I'm not in Forby's shoes, I'm not answering that question here. I'm just asking it.

As for your other "solution"--if you don't like Forby's movie, make your own--spare me. I don't have to invade Iraq, write a Shakespearean sonnet, or launch a rocket to the moon to criticize any of these things. Again, I'm as qualified as any movie producer to judge the ethical aspects of this issue.

If you don't like my criticism, don't read it. Or start your own blog where you tout the virtues of using non-Hawaiian actresses in Hawaiian movies. These are the only solutions I'm offering you.