Film News

Cameron Crowe Apologizes for Casting Emma Stone in Aloha, Explains The Real Life Inspiration Behind Her Character

In Aloha, freckled-faced Emma Stone, with her alabaster skin, strawberry blond hair and green eyes, plays Allison Ng, an optimistic Air Force pilot who’s a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian, half-Swedish. At one point, her parents are viewed in a picture, and neither of them look anything like her. Either Allison is adopted and doesn’t know it, or director-writer Cameron Crowe and the film’s producers went a little too far in asking the audience to suspend their disbelief (you can read my review elsewhere on the site). Allison’s heritage turns out to be very important to the plot.  She is an expert in Hula dancing, can join in on guitar with Hawaiian natives playing a folk song, raves about the islander spiritual energy mana, and is deeply sympathetic toward the plight of the natives, making her a vital asset in the main character’s (Bradley Cooper) on-going negotiations with a particularly obstinate Hawaiian king.  Beyond that, there’s a running joke in the first quarter of the film about how often she explains her heritage to people, none of whom seem overly confused that the Caucasian woman in front of them is claiming to be a quarter-Chinese and quarter-Hawaiian.

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans accused Aloha of white-washing before it ever came out. Countless think pieces have torn into the film on this issue, with EW’s Chris Lee, who is Chinese-American/French-Canadian, writing that watching Aloha made him feel queasy.

Cameron Crowe has heard all of this, and in a new post on his website he formally apologizes for offending so many people by casting Stone as Allison Ng in Aloha. He doesn’t completely back down, though, trying to explain, “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.” As he also did in a recent interview with FilmSchoolRejects, he also points out how many Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders worked on the film, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

You can read his full letter below:

From the very beginning of its appearance in the Sony Hack, Aloha has felt like a misunderstood movie. One that people felt they knew a lot about, but in fact they knew very little. It was a small movie, made by passionate actors who wanted to join me in making a film about Hawaii, and the lives of these characters who live and work in and around the island of Oahu.

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.

I am grateful for the dialogue. And from the many voices, loud and small, I have learned something very inspiring. So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation, and I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.

Thanks again,
Cameron Crowe

Source: TheUnCool

9 comments

  1. I do know a woman who is very alabaster-skinned with the surname Ng. However, it’s because she married a Chinese man with that surname.

    In Australia recently, a news presenter was called a racist after an off-the-cuff remark during an interview with non-identical twin sisters who were bi-racial. One sister has dark skin and the other has red hair and blue eyes.
    http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/sunrise-host-samantha-armytage-mortified-at-racism-suggestion-20150428-1mv5b1.html

    If something as unlikely as that can happen, maybe Emma Stone is kind of justifiable?

    On a positive note, he wasn’t foolish enough to do “yellow face” or something even more offensive. He’s got a good point about people wanting to see people of more ethnic diversity.

    I am struggling to think of a better actor that he could have gone with that fits the racial appearance required. Tia Carrere was born in Honolulu and has Filipino, Chinese and Spanish ancestry. However, is she too old for Bradley Cooper? Moon Bloodgood, who is of Dutch, Irish and Korean descent, has always struck me as a terrible actress. She has been unwatchable in “Falling Skies”. Maybe this is an indicator of the greater problem of not enough encouragement and promotion being given to non-white actors?

    1. I feel a little weird about the whole thing. I am just a white guy, half-German, half-Slovakian. My step-dad is Hawaiian, and I have two step-sisters who are Hawaiian and a step-brother who’s Hawaiian, although they all three have slightly different skin pigmentations, with everyone assuming my step-brother is Hispanic. So, while I can in no way relate to what’s it like to be mixed race or a person of color I do actually have the vaguest of connections to Hawaii. I know that my step-dad was a little annoyed with the idea of George Clooney being Hawaiian in The Descendents, although he loved the Hawaiian scenery in the film. And I have read a lot of those think-pieces about Emma Stone’s casting in Aloha, most of which seem to be written by people who are themselves bi-racial and can thus speak on the matter with some authority. So, if they are offended I trust their opinion because they would have a more informed view. At the same time, Cameron Crowe’s explanation makes sense, i.e., “I’m not saying this character is representative of the normal Hawaiian, but that she is instead both a symbol of the mixture of races in the region as well as my fictional avatar of an adorable redhead I knew on the island who in no way looked like she was Hawaiian but continually assured everyone that she was.” However, it does seem that he has taken the criticism to heart, and is treating this as an educational experience about the increased scrutiny of the lack of diversity in American films.

      Tia Carrere is 48, although she doesn’t look it. The actress I have seen suggested as an alternative choice is Olivia Munn from The Daily Show and The Newsroom. She has a Chinese mom and white dad, and could easily pass as Allison Ng (if they maybe eliminated the part about her being half-Swedish). At 34, she’d also be slightly more age appropriate for the 40-year-old Cooper, although Allison’s extreme youth is also an important part of her character, placing her as someone just starting out and Cooper as a has-been. Again, though, I am horrible with telling people’s ages. Munn doesn’t look 34 to me, Cooper doesn’t look 40 to me. Emma Stone, on the other hand, does pretty much look her age. It’s kind of funny the way she started out as the rare example of a high school student played by an actress who was actually high-school aged in Superbad and segued into the more traditional example of a college-aged actress playing below her age as a high-schooler in The Amazing Spider-Man.

  2. Because I have not seen the movie or Stone’s portrayal of Allison Ng, I do not want to comment on either. However, Crowe’s description of a woman who has a pride for a culture she doesn’t resemble- that resonated with me. By all appearances, I look Pakistani, but my accent, mannerisms, and clothing are mostly American; I too feel that compulsion to over-explain and over-compensate in both arenas. I am not sure whether I will see Aloha for anything other than her portrayal…and hopefully some Cooper abs. 😛

    1. Wow. I am actually stopping to think for a second here because you bring up a crucial point: Is Bradley Cooper shirtless in this movie?

      No, actually, I love your comment, which is well-measured and goes against the grain since so many have come down hard on the casting of Emma Stone. However, I have seen the movie, and your parting joke is causing me to run through it all in my head. I don’t actually remember if we ever see Cooper’s abs, although I think you see his pectoral muscles in one scene.

    1. She’s a great actress, and she’s not bad in the film. It’s just her own ethnic makeup and playing a quarter-Chinese/quarter-Hawaiian/half-Swedish person which is drawing all the criticism.

  3. I have nephews who are 1/4 phillipino..and they have red hair and fair skin. I think Emma Stine was dead on for that part, and I normally don’t think much of her.
    She was great and oerfect for that part in my eyes.

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