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Kaiulani Movie

PRINCESS KAIULANI–THE MOVIE

Ka'iulani's Eyes

I’ve seen the Ka’iulani movie now, and I think that it is terrible.  I don’t know if they managed to spin a good stand-alone fictional  yarn about some made-up princess from a made-up history, because at every point I was testing it against what I knew. 

The film showed Ka’iulani as being forcibly yanked from Hawaii against her will (o, the barbaric wildness of her as she fights her father, her new hosts, etc.) and then hunkering down at a school at which they treated her badly (since she was so barbaric and all).  This fictional character falls in love with her host’s son, and he proposes on the veritable eve of her hieing to New York, then Washington D.C., in order to  rescue her kingdom after the second-generation haole missionaries-turned-businessmen illegally overthrew the monarchy with force.  These businessmen did illegally overthrow the monarchy with force, but that’s just about the only thing I saw in this film that struck me as true, and even then the dates were manipulated.  Which is very odd–the true story is dramatic, gripping, and heartwrenching.  Why these weird spins? 

Ka’iulani traveled widely in Europe during her years there, and met, as a royal, many European royals.  She spoke several languages.  She turned down proposals from a Japanese princes, European royalty, and, in general, seems to have been a strong-minded young woman in addition to being blazingly intelligent and beautiful.  Perhaps “independent” translates into “barbaric” for the filmmakers?   She had money, and she had choices, which she excercised.  I’m not sure who was unhappy with her original school placement or why, but she did eventually move from her orignal school to another situation.  She wasn’t yanked away from home; her European education was well-planned.   Robert Louis Stevenson, a friend of hers, wrote a poem for her on the occasion of her journey, the purpose of which was to educate her to rule a country.  Her father wasn’t an uncaring jerk who didn’t communicate with her or respect her, as depicted in the movie–he was a doting father, as far as I could tell from his letters to her and her history of being the beloved child of himself and his beloved late wife, Governor Likelike.  She regularly fended off proposals, and not just from some lowly provincial Clivish person, whoever he might have been.  This is exceedingly well documented.  It’s not lost in the mists of time.  It’s all written down, and from many points of view, including her own. 

So, mostly the movie seems utter bosh.  I’m not sure what all the “voting” nonsense toward the end was about, either.  Certainly a nice dramatic scene, but I didn’t really understand the meaning of “the vote.”  Voting for what?  Officials for local office?  I guess.  And did this really happen, and in this fashion?  Given the rest of the fictions in the movie, who knows?

In truth, Kaiulani did go to New York City and did meet with President Cleveland over the years of his presidency to discuss, as heir to the Hawaiian throne (as her Aunt Liliokalanihad done during some of her many trips to Washington, among other trips to Europe and to England as an invited guest at Victoria’s Jubilee) her country’s future.  There was, perhaps, in the US, the populace of which has always had a very low level of education regarding international affairs,  a concept of Hawaiians being backward and barbaric.  Ka’iulani, cultured to the nth degree,  perhaps “dispelled”  this straw-women myth set up to sell papers?  I don’t know.  Mainlanders have always thought of Hawaii as being a foreign country, which it was.  In 1988, a friend of a friend visited, but first inquired whether or not US dollars were used there.  I was floored.  At any rate, after Ka’iulani’s visit (which in the movie was cast as a scene in which Ka’iulani, for some unknown reason, had to pretend that she was not heir to a throne but there in some other capacity), Cleveland brought the issue of annexation to Congress to try to thwart the process, but he failed. 

And, sigh, one big nit was the actress chosen to play the part.  She did well with what they gave her, yes.  However, she didn’t look anything like Ka”iulani.  I’d heard the pre-release criticism, which predisposed me to have an open mind because I don’t like to get my information second-hand, in which many complain about the fact that a Hawaiian was not chosen to play the part.  The film opened with a scene featuring a stunningly beautiful actress and a little girl.   I thought, “They were wrong!  This IS Kaiulani!”  But then . . . no.  That perfect match was actually Ka’iulani’smother in the movie, soon to die.  In fact, Ka’iulani was half-Scottish; her father, Archibald Cleghorn, was a Scot. 

As with all my novels, I researched THE BONES OF TIME, which is about Ka’iulani, assiduously and meticulously.  For several years.  At the Bishop Museum, I read her original letters from England to her father.  I am, however, a haole, and was quite worried about casting this admirable woman, and the tragedy of the theft of Hawai’i, in my own foreigner’s words.  The only part of her life that is not well-documented is her last few years, when she returned to Hawai’i and died.  I might as well throw this into the pot–perhaps she was poisoned.  Certainly this well-loved rightful monarch to an independent country was a threat to the interests of the American businessmen who illegally annexed Hawai’i. 

THE BONES OF TIME is out of print, though I sell it through my web site.  I hope to have a bit more time in the future to deal with my out of print novels–republish them as e-books, etc., since I have the rights to all of them save QUEEN CITY JAZZ, still in print via Tor.  At that time, I may change the title of the book to include Ka’iulani.  THE BONES OF TIME was actually the suggestion of my editor, as the original title, from the Asimov’s novella, was “Kamehameha’s Bones.”

Anyway, if you enjoyed the movie, or intend to, enjoy away.  Just understand that it is fiction. 

Here’s a web site that has a bit about that:  http://www.disappearednews.com/2010/05/princess-kaiulani.html

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3 comments

1 Linda Nagata { 12.23.10 at 3:52 PM }

Hi Kathy–I enjoyed the movie as a movie, but from your description it sounds like there was a much better story to tell.

Regarding ebooks, my first four novels have already made the transition. Here’s a link to the “how-to” I wrote up on my blog if that’s helpful: http://hahvi.net/?cat=13 But if you need any input on the process, just ask away!

2 Mindi { 04.19.11 at 12:51 AM }

Kathy, dear –

Enjoyed your review very much. Will have to share some further mana’o with you. By the by, Ka’iulani’s last year and a half in Hawai’i is fairly well-documented: the local papers like the Independent (a wonderful pro-Monarchy/independence newspaper)
took fairly constant note of her activities…so a lot of the detail of her life during that brief time survives. Despite her own complaint about a nearly reclusive life, she went out a lot – to the races at Kapi’olani park (bicycle and horse), to various plays and musical entertainments at the Opera House,
to dinners and activities of all sorts. And she played hostess to an exhausting number of visitors to ‘Ainahau. There is a lot more material out there still…and once the Hawaiian language papers are translated for public consumption, even greater detail will be available. Aloha pumehana!

3 Kathleen Goonan { 04.19.11 at 3:58 PM }

Aloha, Mindi! So nice to hear from you. Thank you for the additional information about Princess Ka’iulani. Mindi Reid, by the way, is one of the foremost experts regarding Ka’iulani. We’ve been in touch since The Bones of Time came out, and she has an article about Ka’iulani’s surfing career–or pastime, I suppose–in the works. Let us know when and where this will be published, Mindi. And thanks again for writing.

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