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Waikiki makes history with Native Hawaiian director

Director Christopher Kahunahana is making history with Waikiki, IndieWire reports. Kahunahana is the first Native Hawaiian filmmaker to both direct and write a feature. 

According to IndieWire, Waikiki is set to premiere at the Urbanworld Film Festival this weekend, followed by screenings with the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. 

The feature follows the life of Kea, a hula dancer who ‘fights for survival and her sanity,’ and is a ‘visceral allegory for the contemporary issues which plague Hawaiiʻs people,’ according to waikikithemovie.com.

“Escaping her abusive ex-boyfriend, Kea, a part-time Hawaiian teacher, hula dancer, and bar hostess temporarily lives out of her van to piece her life back together. One night after a violent beating, she speeds off into the night only to slam into Wo, a mysterious homeless man crossing the street,” the website notes. “Unwilling to leave him to die, she takes him into her van and life.” 

Kahunahana, a Sundance Lab Alum whose film, Lahaina Noon, debuted with stunning success, said Waikiki draws inspiration from his real-life experiences with temporary houselessness. 

“So many families in Hawai’i are living paycheck to paycheck and are one crisis away from living on the streets. Mental health issues, abuse, and addiction tragically are very real within our communities,” Kahunahana said, according to IndieWire. “Honolulu has one of the highest per-capita rates of homelessness in the nation and is consistently ranked among New York City and San Francisco as having the highest cost of living.”

The film also discusses the effects of colonialism and how often that fact is glanced over in Hollywood depictions of Hawai’i, according to its website. 

Waikiki

According to a UCLA interview with Ninez Ponce and Karla Thomas, the marginalization of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities has become more apparent during the COVID-19 crisis as NHPIs are disproportionately impacted. 

There are multiple underlying explanations to the trends, Ponce, a UCLA professor and director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said. 25% of NHPIs are essential workers, and socioeconomic disparities also lead to barriers to health access.  

Cultural traditions, including festivals and religious ceremonies, are also part of the reason, Thomas, a UCLA graduate said, and culturally competent healthcare is a necessity. 

“Growing up with my maternal Samoan family, I’ve been accustomed to the large congregations… These gatherings are prioritized in our ways of life, especially for NHPIs in the U.S. diaspora,” Thomas said. “Although COVID-19 messages and guidelines are widespread, messaging is generalized and it doesn’t feature NHPI faces or touch community values, making it difficult to resonate with. It also doesn’t help that there is a language barrier.” 

“The data tell us that NHPIs have higher COVID-19 case and death rates than any other racial or ethnic group, especially in regions with dense populations of NHPIs,” Thomas, added.

“Filmmaking has been my means to process these realities,” Kahunahana said. “With Waikīkī being the crown jewel of the tourism industry and the driving force behind the exploitation of Hawaiian culture, it very clearly presented itself as the setting in which to discuss these issues.” 

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