Hawaii's transition from 19th-century sovereign nation to 20th-century U.S. state is comprehensively examined in "State of Aloha."
Hawaii’s transition from 19th-century sovereign nation to 20th-century U.S. state is comprehensively examined in “State of Aloha.” Expertly assembled over five years by helmer Anne Misawa, who’s spoken to everyone from senators and historians to social workers and students, this valuable history lesson offers thought-provoking opinions on how the legacy of statehood has shaped Hawaiian society. World preemed at Hawaii, the docu deserves to catch the eye of fest programmers and pubcasters.
Opening with a Hawaii not seen in tourist brochures, the docu shows a heated clash between supporters and opponents of statehood on the Admission Day public holiday in 2006. The hot topics are the legality of Hawaii’s annexation in 1898 and whether Hawaiians should have been offered the choice of independent nationhood in the 1959 referendum immediately preceding statehood. For those waving stars and stripes, Hawaii’s economy and security have never had it so good since it came into the fold. Naysayers claim Admission Day celebrates an unlawful process that began with the arrival of missionaries and foreign landowners more than two centuries ago.
Debate on the current state of affairs is skillfully woven into an enlightening historical overview. It’ll be news to many viewers that, following first European contact with British naval explorer Capt. James Cook in 1778, Hawaii functioned as a constitutional monarchy for most of the 19th century before clashes with foreign businessmen triggered annexation. Less surprising are statistics revealing that the number of full-blooded Hawaiians plummeted from around 800,000 pre-contact to fewer than 8,000 by 2008.
With outstanding archival material at their disposal, Misawa and editor Ruth Chon picture 20th-century Hawaii as an evolving multicultural society dominated politically and socially by “the Big Five” sugar corporations. Clips from cheesy old company promo reels are pointedly contrasted with facts about migrant laborers being paid different wages according to nationality, and images of homeless Native Hawaiians toughing it out in Blue Tarp City, a shantytown-like refuge in present-day Oahu.
Anything but a catalog of complaints, “Aloha” allocates significant time to honoring the spirit and achievements of all Hawaiians, particularly the mixed-race World War II servicemen whose distinguished record helped advance the drive to statehood. Some of the docu’s most informed comments come from one such veteran, Daniel Inouye, who has served in the U.S. Senate since becoming its first Japanese-American member in 1962.
Among nothing but high-quality interviewees, the standout is the late Ah Quon McElrath, a feisty former union organizer and social worker. McElrath’s razor-sharp memories of the 1949 dockworkers strike and rumors of Hawaii becoming a beachhead for communism are just part of her tremendously incisive analysis of the islands’ postwar social history.
Final seg, covering seminars and rallies held on the 50th anniversary of statehood (Aug. 21, 2009), gives the impression that while no one here is exactly talking ’bout a revolution, there is much to be discussed regarding Hawaii’s future.
Commissioned by U. of Hawaii and staffed by a mix of professionals and media students, the docu is not flashy but looks just fine and is produced to a high technical standard.