Director Cameron Crowe has made a formal apology to filmgoers who took offense at his controversial casting of Emma Stone as an Asian-American in his new Hawaii-set film “Aloha.”
The decision to cast Stone as Allison Ng, who is described in the film as a quarter Asian and a quarter Hawaiian, was met with widespread criticism and accusations of “white-washing” from cultural commenters and organizations like the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. The film’s cast is predominately white, even though the majority of Hawaii’s population consists of minorities. Crowe penned an essay Wednesday for his blog The Uncool acknowledging that, while the Ng character was supposed to look “nothing like” what her ancestry would suggest, he understands why the casting was considered “odd or misguided” by some.
“Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng,” Crowe wrote Crowe, who is best known for his romantic comedies “Say Anything” and “Jerry Maguire.” “I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heartfelt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice.”
“We were extremely proud to present the island, the locals and the film community with many jobs for over four months,” Crowe added. “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.”
Even before its release, “Aloha” was something of a troubled production. The leads first attached to the project, Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon, ended up pulling out citing scheduling concerns. And when emails from the film’s production company, Sony, were leaked late last year, the correspondence revealed that the studio’s president, Amy Pascal, had not minced words about the film’s flaws.
“Aloha” opened poorly last weekend to across-the-board mediocre reviews, with many critics singled out the casting of Stone as a distraction. “In order to process this idea of Stone as a biracial character, as someone whose genetic lineage can be traced back to the Middle Kingdom by way of Polynesia, you must first get past the obvious stumbling blocks: her alabaster skin and strawberry blond hair, her emerald eyes and freckles — past the star’s outwardly unassailable #Caucasity — if only because the movie hammers home her cultural other-ness in just about every other scene,” wrote Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Lee.
And last month, msnbc’s Janet Mock suggested that even the film’s title smacks of uncomfortable cultural appropriation.
“Most who invoke the term ‘aloha’ do not know its true meaning,” Mock said on her Shift by msnbc show “So Popular.” “When writer-director Cameron Crowe uses the language of a marginalized, indigenous people whose land, culture and sovereignty have been stripped from them, he contributes to a long tradition of reducing native Hawaiians to his own limited imaginings — and this is dangerous.”
According to Crowe, the character Stone plays is “based on a real-life, red-headed local.” Nevertheless, he appears to have been humbled by the backlash.
“I am grateful for the dialogue,” Crowe said in his essay. “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.”