Ask any local from Hawai’i and they’ll tell you how much they despise this movie.
I was JUST talking about this movie with my friend Abby. Gah.
Reasons why The Descendants sucks:
- White people who have never lived in Hawai’i (or at least if they have, you know it was in some ridiculously big mansion) playing local white people who have lived in Hawai’i for generations. I can buy they’re part Hawaiian because a good number of my friends don’t look Hawaiian at all because of the distillation of Hawaiian background due to intermarrying and a pretty literal decimation of the Hawaiian population. HOWEVER, they did not ACT like they were local people, and that was a huge problem with this movie.
- There is no way the King family is a bunch of local people. Seriously. The way they lived in no way resonated with local life. Example: the George Clooney character throws a semi-wake for his wife for his friends. His friends are ALL white. ALL OF THEM. Dude went to Punahou. I can guarantee that if he actually grew up in Hawai’i, he would have friends from other races because Hawai’i is just that racially diverse. Most people are at least part Asian. I’m serious. This is not a “well, my state has about a 25% minority population so we’re diverse” kind of deal. Hawai’i is diverse, and for all of the King’s family’s friends to be white people is just not accurate at all. This movie managed to whitewash a whole damn state.
- The food! At the same semi-wake (I say semi because I don’t think his wife was dead yet), the King family served food to their white friends. AND IT LOOKED LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A TOURISTY LU’AU. All they were missing were girls running around in coconut bras. It looked like the idea someone from outside of Hawai’i has of white Hawai’i actually is. They served cut fruit and kebabs (kebabs?? really??), with no sign of food that would probably crop up. Like rice.
- Let’s talk about rice for a moment. All food in the movie would have been 100% more authentic to local culture by the inclusion of white rice. Almost every single one of our restaurants, INCLUDING MCDONALD’S, has white rice on the menu. Why? Because of the heavy influence of Japanese and Chinese cultures on Hawai’i from the sugar plantation days. This also means that most Hawai’i locals eat rice for almost every meal no matter their race. Clooney, at one point, serves up a pretty local breakfast to his daughter. Portuguese sausage, eggs… and toast. Why toast? I have no idea. They went so far to include the Portuguese sausage and eggs, why did they stop and replace the usual rice with toast? I’m making a big deal about starch, but it’s almost akin to seeing a Japanese movie where the family eats toast with their miso soup.
- It’s almost like they made a conscious effort to eschew the King family’s local roots. Not its Hawaiian roots, its local roots. A huge part of the movie was that this family wasn’t feeling “Hawaiian” enough to control these sovereign lands. Well, it also seemed like they lived on the mainland for most of their lives and didn’t have any local background at all. Despite being born and raised in Hawai’i on both sides. I couldn’t believe this family was from Hawai’i.
- Oh, and the only ACTUAL local people shown? Bit parts and stereotypes. The youngest daughter has been acting out at school, so they visit her friend’s house. Her friend is a chubby east Asian girl, and her mom is a chubby east Asian woman. And all the mother does is yell and scream and browbeat the nice white man. And that’s pretty much it for minority representation in the movie; even the extras failed to be anything besides white. Oh, except when they had to show homeless people to exemplify that Hawai’is not some paradise. So, People of Color in Hawai’i are relegated to extras and the homeless in the white people’s story…
The Descendants could have been a powerful piece of writing addressing this family’s struggle to hold onto their Hawaiian roots while also looking “haole as fuck” (I think he said fuck; he may have said shit, I can’t remember), as George Clooney put it. But the Hawai’i shown in that movie was some whitewashed paradise envisioned by someone in Hollywood whose only experience with Hawai’i was probably slurping Mai Tais by the Halekulani pool. Lilo and Stitch continues to be one of the only mainstream movies about Hawai’i that actually feels like Hawai’i; it is also one of the only mainstream movies to focus on PoC. Take from that what you will.