Hawaiian identity, lost and found, is the subject of two films featured in the Northwest Film Forum’s Indigenous Showcase. Both reviews below are followed by discussions with their respective filmmaker.
In her documentary, E Haku Inoa (to weave a name), filmmaker Christen Marquez undertakes a poignant journey to discover the meaning of her middle name: Hepuakoamana’ekapunokamalei’o’nali’iamekahanohano’ia.
For a Native Hawaiian parent, the sacred act of naming a child includes invoking family ancestry. But after Marquez’s mother is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the family is torn apart, and the meaning of Marquez’s name is lost along with her mother’s mind.
The playful opening title sequence offers no warning for the unfolding tragedy Marquez recalls onscreen. Separated, with her siblings, the move to Seattle with their white father and away from their Hawaiian mother devastates her. Yet even more disturbing is the speculation that Marquez’s mother’s mental illness was due to a disconnection from her own culture.
IE: What was the hardest part of making this film?
Marquez: Despite the difficult personal nature of the film, I still have to say that the classic funding struggle was the most difficult. In the most ideal setting, I use my films as a medium to explore and understand subjects that are interesting to me. Haku was motivated by my desire to work out my relationship with my Mom. So, even though it might be unusual for some people to make a film about that process, in hindsight for me, it felt very natural.
IE: What’s your relationship with your mother like now?
Marquez: It’s great! We have a lot of fun together. My personality doesn’t always lend to the motherly mothering that my Mom doles out, but even if I’m annoyed at her when she’s trying to get me to wear some ugly, oversized, lace sweater, I’m so thankful to have her in my life again.
IE: How should Native Hawaiians diagnosed with mental illness be facilitated?
Marquez: There have been great strides since the 1980s to improve the access and quality of mental health services for Native Hawaiians; however, there’s still a lot left to do. Two really important ways I see to improve the state of Native Hawaiian health are: holistic, which is to create social space for Hawaiians to connect with traditional ways; and, to create educational and economic opportunities that incorporate traditional values. The thing that I think is most important in terms of direct service for individuals dealing with mental health issues is to have more Native Hawaiian people doing work in the field.
In The Haumana, a narrative directed by Keo Woolford and shot on Oahu, Jonny Kealoha (Tui Asau) sells his soul entertaining tourists with Polynesian lounge songs. The more he co-opts his culture, the deeper he falls into a pit of drunkenness and debauchery, including sleeping with vacationing women.
Summoned to say goodbye to his former kumu (hula teacher), Auntie Margaret (Marlene Sai), Jonny is shocked by her dying request—that he succeed her in training the all-boys high school team for the upcoming Royal Hula Festival. Struggling to gain the respect of the haumana (students) and Auntie Napua (Mary Pa’alani), kumu to the girls’ team, Jonny ends up surprising himself the most.
IE: Is that you dancing at the end?
Woolford: Yes. It’s the dance I won the Merrie Monarch with in 2005. I’m a very proud hula dancer and, while living in London, New York and Los Angeles, I encountered so much misconception and misperception about hula and the culture. It became my goal to somehow expose a part of my experience and love for our culture through the skills and crafts that I’ve learned.
IE: Why preserve Hawaiian culture?
Woolford: I think it’s important for any culture to sustain tradition because of how fast things are evolving. Hula is such an integral aspect of Hawaiian culture and because of misrepresentation in the global mass media, I feel it’s very important to bring awareness to the authentic tradition and deep spiritual ritual that it is.
IE: Is Jonny a typical Hawaiian youngster?
Woolford: I think the irony of the situation Jonny is in is that he’s using the talents he has to make a living to survive in this colonized Western society. I try to make it clear that there is no judgment about performing in a show like that for money. So many of our people do it. But the point I wanted to make was for him to understand the difference between what he does and what once was. The younger generations are growing up with this knowledge and pride as a part of the fabric of their upbringing. It wasn’t always like that. Not too long ago, it was shameful to be Hawaiian and speak the language. It’s quite the opposite now, and that’s wonderful!
For more information on the Northwest Film Forum, visit www.nwfilmforum.org.
Northwest Film Forum
Saturday, November 16
6:00 p.m.—E Hauku Inoa
8:00 p.m.—The Haumana