Cameron Crowe’s Aloha arrived to dismal reviews and dreadful box-office numbers over the weekend, but the issue that justifiably remained front and center for many who saw it and most who didn’t see it is that the character played by Emma Stone — Alison Ng — is one quarter Hawaiian and one quarter Chinese.
Emma Stone is neither of those. She is of Swedish, German, Dutch, Scottish, and Irish descent. So why in God’s name would Cameron Crowe cast her in his movie, aside from the fact that she’s probably a very good box-office draw?
I’ll let Cameron Crowe explain (via The Uncool):
Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.
Whether that story point felt hurtful or humorous has been, of course, the topic of much discussion. However I am so proud that in the same movie, we employed many Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders, both before and behind the camera… including Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and his village, and many other locals who worked closely in our crew and with our script to help ensure authenticity.
We were extremely proud to present the island, the locals and the film community with many jobs for over four months. Emma Stone was chief among those who did tireless research, and if any part of her fine characterization has caused consternation and controversy, I am the one to blame.
Obviously, the fact that Ng’s character was “super proud” of being 1/4 Hawaiian was not expressed or explained in the film, but then again, based on the movie I saw, there was probably a great deal on the cutting room floor, because much of the movie made no goddamn sense. As I wrote in my review, it was a “disaster,” and regardless of Crowe’s intent — and as much as I adore Emma Stone — it was a disastrous casting decision, as was — in my opinion — the decision to even set it in Hawaii and set his love story against the backdrop of Hawaiian folklore. From what is evidenced onscreen, Cameron Crowe didn’t know enough about the culture and heritage of Hawaii to successfully incorporate it into his film (again, a director’s cut might at least suggest he knew more than the finished cut let on).
I’m also a little confused — if the character was originally based on “a real-life, red-headed local” — as to why Cameron Crowe’s original choice to play the character back in 2008 was Reese Witherspoon. That choice would not have been any kind of improvement, and it makes me wonder how honest Crowe is being.
In either respect, it was a bad call, top to bottom, for Crowe, who I’m sure was more invested in getting an A-list star for the role than he was in respecting diversity and accuracy in casting. Little did Cameron know that no amount of A-list talent could’ve salvaged Aloha.
Those who were upset or offended by the casting of Emma Stone had absolutely every right to be.
And yet, I didn’t make mention of the terrible casting decision in my review of Aloha, and several commenters and several on Twitter expressed outrage at the fact that I didn’t express outrage. There were at least three individuals who expressed their desires not to continue reading Pajiba anymore because I didn’t take Crowe to task for the casting. That sucked to hear.
This is a progressive, liberal site, and it’s not like we’ve been shy about expressing what some call “outrage” (and what I call “an honest, genuine opinion”), so why the hell didn’t I take Cameron Crowe to task for the dumb casting decision in my review?
There are a few reasons, and you may agree or not with them. One reason I didn’t mention it is because it had been written about extensively on the Internet in the days previous to my review. Jen Yamato, I thought, wrote the definitive takedown of the whitewashing in Aloha, and I thought competing with that piece not only would’ve been futile but redundant. The issue had been covered ad nauseum, but the fact that we didn’t also cover it didn’t mean I was being dismissive. it just meant that I thought the issue had already been raised elsewhere, and I didn’t want to flog that particular horse again. I live on the Internet, and I’d already seen 25 pieces and hundreds of comments shitting all over Crowe for casting Stone, and I assumed that our bright, well-informed, politically sensitive readers were already well on top of that issue.
But the other reason was more personal. It was a love letter to Cameron Crowe, not just for the love story that lurked somewhere beneath the rest of the mess in Aloha, but for his contributions to my own romantic life over the last two decades. It was also a silly love letter to my wife, because our tenth anniversary is tomorrow, and I wanted to write something nice. Because Cameron Crowe’s big, cheesy love stories resonate for me. I came home from the movie clearly understanding what a trainwreck it was in an objective sense, but also feeling exuberant and even more smitten with my wife and the glorious, wonderful trainwreck that is our home life with three chaotic children.
In that context, it just didn’t feel right to devote a paragraph in the middle of a love letter to Crowe/my wife to take Cameron Crowe to task for what was obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the movie a dumb casting decision. Also, because devoting only a paragraph to the issue would’ve given it short shrift, because there’s a lot more complexity to it than merely the bad casting of Emma Stone, as Yamoto wrote in her piece (Emma Stone was the least of the casting issues she had). So I chose to ignore the elephant in the room, not because I didn’t see it but because I thought everyone else could already see it.
So when the comments and Twitter reactions to my decision not to write about it began coming out, it kind of stung — which is a euphemistic way of saying, “It really hurt my feelings” — to get called out by readers for whom I have an immense respect and admiration for not addressing an issue that I thought had already been capably addressed elsewhere.
But then again, I live in this sort of echo chamber where — in my world — that criticism had reached a certain saturation point, and maybe I should’ve been more mindful that not everyone who reads Pajiba also reads everything else on the Internet, and maybe I should have — at the very least — mentioned the glaring issue at the center of Aloha. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so singularly focused on writing something for my significant other when thousands of other people were also reading.
For that, I apologize. That was dumb. I also have that in common with Crowe sometimes.
Truthfully, I should copy/paste the entire back-and-forth conversation that the Pajiba staff has been having about this very issue over the last couple of days because it is insightful, thoughtful, and brilliant, and the reason I’m so fortunate that they write for this site. Still, I think I’ll stick with my own, more honest excuse: I didn’t address, not becuase I don’t think it matters, it because I adore my wife and in this particular review, I prioritized that.
I do hope that those who considered leaving the site over the review will reconsider. Besides, there will make plenty of other mistakes (maybe even in this very piece!) that you can use to justify leaving us.