I feel bad for Cameron Crowe. He's eating a lot of shit this week, and I think he deserves better. He's a filmmaker doing his best, which is more than I can say for someone like Doug Ellin, whose Entourage sleazes into theaters today (and no, we will not be reviewing it here). Crowe means well, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, and panning the shit out of Aloha gave me no joy.
He's also a guy who is on the wrong side of a cultural shift in cinematic representation; it isn't that he's bad, it's just that he didn't know any better. That's the message he sent today on his site, addressing complaints that Emma Stone was cast as a character named Alison Ng.
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.
That's what he had to say at the end of a post on The Uncool, explaining why he cast Stone in the part. I get where he's coming from, on some level - as an older guy who considers himself progressive the last five years have seen a bewildering change in the kind of language and attitudes that are appropriate. The Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover really brings this to a head, as millions of Americans are suddenly faced with pronoun issues they never dealt with before. People aren't trying to be jerks, most of the time - they just don't know any better. Crowe legitimately believed that he was making a movie that celebrated Hawaii and its people, and he is very proud of having Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele in the film - but he's working from an outdated vision of what inclusion means. It doesn't just mean peppering natives into the background anymore, it means casting main roles with natives.
The important thing is that he's paying attention and listening - that's all you can ask of people when they make honest mistakes in a culture that is changing around them.
So why did he cast Emma Stone as a character with the surname Ng anyway? Even in a spirit of forgiveness that seems like some egregious shit. Says Crowe:
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.
This is where the lack of other representation fails the film. If there were other main characters who were Hawaiian (or at the very least Asian) the Ng character wouldn't have felt like such an off note. When the only serious Asian representation in a movie is an alabaster woman with the biggest eyes anyone has ever had audiences (the few who went, anyway) get a weird feeling. Another Asian character relating to Ng on some level would have helped; even the fact that Bumpy likes her doesn't help, as Allison simply comes across as someone who is super into the Hawaiian culture, like Rachel McAdams' most assuredly not-Hawaiian son.
I really want Cameron Crowe to get out of this slump he's been in. Nothing since Almost Famous has come close to that movie, which perfectly uses his schmaltzy tendencies to beautiful effect. It's almost like making a movie as deeply personal as that exhausted him on a fundamental level, like something vital to his filmmaking was used up. It's been a slide in quality, but Aloha feels like it is certainly the absolute nadir - there's no way that it can get worse than this. It can only get better. Right?