From the Post-Colonial Peanut Gallery: “Aloha”

Film review by Daniel Fan

“Sometimes you have to say goodbye before you can say hello.”

“Aloha:” a traditional Hawaiian word which is used both as a greeting and a send off.  And now, it’s a mid-sized romantic-comedy starring a pretty much all-white cast.

Aloha is the story of Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a washed-up, blown-up former US Air Force officer and private military contractor working a last-chance gig for billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray as an interesting amalgamation of Richard Branson and Dick Cheney, with a little Jim Carrey goofy-ness mixed in).  Serving as romantic opposites for Gilcrest are Rachel McAdams portraying Tracy Woodside (honest, hardworking, but longsuffering former flame of Gilcrest) and Emma Stone as the straight-laced Air Force rising-star Captain Allison Ng.

[Spoilers ahead]

The character of Allison Ng deserves some discussion here.   Emma Stone appears in Aloha with her natural (or as natural as Hollywood can be) blond hair.  “Ng” is a Cantonese (Chinese) last name.  I get the sneaking suspicion that Cameron Crowe (both director and screenwriter for Aloha) envisioned someone a little more, shall we say Grace-Park-ish for the roll of Allison Ng—landing an A-lister like Ms. Stone probably settled any discussion on that topic.  While it would have been easier for most audiences to believe someone of mixed Asian raced was a quarter native Hawaiian it would have been no less of an appropriation.  Come on, there weren’t any Native Hawaiian actresses available?  I really feel like giving this character the surname of “Ng” was an unnecessary distraction to what would have been appropriation anyways.  Once Emma Stone signed on, why not just change the character’s name her “Allison Jorgenson” and be done with it?  In the end, there is no reason she couldn’t have been 100% native Hawaiian and given what this character does on screen, casting a native Hawaiian actress in the role would have been entirely appropriate.

The plot:  Aloha’s intro title roll splices together generic cold war footage with Hawaiian luau and parade scenes.  When Gilcrest and his potential romantic rival, the strong but silent John “Woody” Woodside (C-17 pilot and now husband of McAdam’s Tracy Woodside) deplane on the ramp at Hickam AFB, there is a Hula team to greet them.  Make no mistake: for better or worse this film knows it’s set in Hawaii and lays on the Hawaiiana thick.

Gilcrest’s immediate task is to secure the indigenous population’s blessing for the opening of a new, high-capacity gate for Joint Base Hickam/Pearl Harbor.  His real job is to ensure the successful launch of Global One’s private rocket “Brave Angel” and the safe delivery of its mystery payload.  While Gilcrest makes awkwardly familiar conversation with Tracy, he’s hounded by the by-the-book Captain Ng, who’s been tasked with keeping Gilcrest on a tight leash.

It’s here that we’re introduced to Tracy’s and Woody’s son Mitch, who fulfills the role of the creepy, yet strangely prescient kid obsessed with the Hawaiian legend of the arrival of Lono—a kid who couldn’t possibly have read the book since he never puts down his video camera.  Mitch muses that Gilcrest is, in fact Lono (Makahiki Hawaiian God of peace)—a convenient metaphor, but one that is strangely never completed by Crowe.

Gilcrest and Ng make their way to the camp of the Soveriegn Hawaiian Nation, ruled by King “Bumpy” (real-life Hawaiian sovereignty activist Dennis Kanahele).  Before they arrive Ng awkwardly pronounces “This place has a lot of mana [power].”  It’s a jarring insertion and not the last time that Crowe’s injection of Hawaiiana comes across too on-the-nose.

While the odd pair are initially repulsed by the local toughs, it turns out that Gilcrest and Bumpy go way back and Bumpy accepts Gilcrest as Ohana (“family,” didn’t you watch Lilo and Stitch?).  Despite Bumpy having “big time respect” for military folks “when they do the right thing” Gilcrest’s ham fisted attempts at negotiation falter until he’s rescued by Ng who just happens to be fluent in native Hawaiian.  Ng saves the negotiations: Bumpy will bless the opening of the gate and removal of native Hawaiian burial remains on the condition that he is given back “two hills” of land, a cell tower to provide coverage over his lands, and assurances that the base will not be used to launch weapons into orbit (something Ng confidently states cannot take place since the US is a signatory of a no-weapons-in-space treaty).

While driving back to town Gilcrest muses “We speak money, they speak myths & sky.  The sky doesn’t speak [it’s all about money].”  Ok, we get it, Gilcrest is not sincere in his negotiations—not exactly the first haole to lie during negotiations.  But then Ng spots series of strange lights and shadows ahead.  “Night Marchers!” Really?  Unfortunately, Gilcrest doesn’t get picked like an Opihi.  I’m not really sure what this scene was supposed to do plot-wise.  Maybe it was supposed to contradict Gilcrest’s earlier quip denying the presence of supernatural intervention, or maybe it was just another insertion of Hawaiiana in the cause of “authenticity?”  Either way, it didn’t really work for Gilcrest and probably won’t work for most audience members who will not necessarily connect the Night Marchers with the sky speaking to a mere human.  If that’s even what this scene was written for.

From here the film takes a turn toward the personal.  Gilcrest visits the Woodsides at their home, and finds Ng already there instructing the Woodside’s nominal daughter, Grace in the Hula (is there anything that Ng can’t do?).  Gilcrest and Tracy begin a long awaited and badly needed after-action report on their relationship only to be interrupted by Woody who silently conveys a number of sentiments without saying a word.  In an odd but winsome reversal of the “women are always better communicators than men” trope, Tracy is completely ignorant of what is being said, so Gilcrest translates for her after Woody leaves. It’s an awkward introduction to a shtick that pays off pretty well later on.  Suffice to say that there are unresolved feelings and issues between Tracy and Gilcrest.

It’s also here that we get, in my opinion, one of the biggest mis-steps of the screenplay.  Gilcrest visits Mitch in his room to find the boy watching a hamster mating clip on his computer.  Whether this is intended to show that Mitch is more mature than the typical child or that the child is in fact some form of creepy hamster porn aficionado isn’t clear and it gets less clear due to the dialog that follows.  Gilcrest asks Mitch how the arrival myth ends, so he knows where the story goes (and, if he in fact wants to be Lono).   Mitch explains (remember: this is a pre-teen child) Pele captures Lono and enacts “revenge-sex” on him for the next 1000 years, the result of which becomes the next island in the Hawaiian chain.  They both conclude that such a fate is “not a bad way to go.”  How would an eight year-old-not only know what revenge-sex is but also know enough to be in favor of being the victim of 1000 years of said revenge-sex?  Maybe hamster porn isn’t the only thing this kid has been watching—or perhaps he’s found a truly unique subgenre of the already unique hamster-porn subgenre: revenge hamster porn.   Maybe you really can find anything on the internet these days—despite that possibility I would opine that are some corners of cyberspace into which young boys should not be looking, revenge hamster porn being one of them.

Gilcrest and Ng eventually wind up in the Officer’s Club with everyone else from the cast except anyone who is actually native Hawaiian.  There’s a party, some mention of menehune (when the wind blows some shutters open) and as a result of this sequence, we learn three very important things 1) Ng is not only an accomplished Hula dancer, fighter pilot, and Olelo speaker, but she can also cut a rug American style as well, 2) Carson Welch, owner of Global One, intends to put his own private nuke into space with the upcoming Brave Angel launch that is only days away.  Carson’s justification is that he is a patriot and America needs to be one step ahead of the Chinese (Sorry Vladimir, you’ve been demoted), 3) Alec Baldwin’s acting has devolved from the compelling bully Blake of “Glen Gary Glen Ross” to whatever overacting goof is named in the Capitol One “What’s in your wallet?” scripts.

Gilcrest opens the flash drive given to him by Carson which shows Brave Angel’s mystery second payload, but doesn’t chose to share the contents with Ng despite an intimate encounter that night.  Later Ng visits the Woodside’s house while on a post-sex-high jog-through-the-neighborhood and sees covert footage captured by Mitch of Brave Angel being loaded onto Global One’s rocket.  Somehow she deduces that the payload is weaponized (told you, this wahine got da mana!).  She meets Gilcrest for a pre-arranged lunch and confronts him over his broken promise to Bumpy.  The two have a predictable falling out which is made somewhat more entertaining by the inclusion of a ridiculous hat.  Not gonna lie: ‘Dat hat steal ‘da scene, brah.  Don’t be surprised to see it on stage next year for Oscar: best supporting actor/actress.

To her credit, Ng seems genuinely distressed by this revelation of an attempt to weaponize space.  It’s not just that Gilcrest betrayed her, but that she also, as an accessory to the launch, will betray the Native Hawaiians to whom she seems to have more of a connection to than Gilcrest himself.

The native Hawaiians bless the gate opening and in a seemingly rushed sequence a still feuding Gilcrest and Ng are whisked off to launch control: the date has been moved up.  Instead of running the launch sequence from a modern command center, the odd couple are closeted in what looks like a 1970s radio studio hidden in the back of a grocery warehouse.  The cloak-and-dagger-secret-bat-cave-ness of the whole scene are never explained.

Carson Welch needs Gilcrest to eliminate a Chinese hack (it’s always the Chinese isn’t it?) before Global One’s rocket reaches orbit.  Of course, he’s successful at it: it’s as easy as deleting a couple lines of code which are conveniently highlighted in red text.

Ng sits down in the launch center, crushed.  Bumpy peers into the sky, troubled.  Carson Welch sits back nervously watching his plans come to fruition.  Brave Angel reaches geo-synchronous orbit and deploys successfully.

Gilcrest looks around the launch center and decides to do the right thing.  For those of you who were wondering: Gilcrest doing the right thing was never in doubt (this is a rom-com remember?).  In a leap of both logic and physics, he uses concentrated sound waves to knock the Brave Angel out of orbit.  Really?  Sound in space?  Pigs in Space would have made more sense.

With that, Gilcrest effectively nails shut the coffin to his own career in the aerospace industry.  He leaves to tie up a few loose ends with Tracy.  Tracy finally admits to Gilcrest that Grace is his daughter, not Woody’s, although she and her husband have never talked about where Grace came from.  In the second best acted scent of the film, Woody and Gilcrest have a touching (pun intended) silent conversation which happily displays John Karsinki’s depth as an actor.  Jim from The Office has grown up.

Gilcrest also visits the Hula Halau where Grace is dancing.  The two share a heartfelt, but silent scene as Grace comes to the same understanding as Gilcrest.  Aloha does have its moments and this is one of them.

In a finale that seems more than slightly deus-ex-machina, Gilcrest is sent off to the o-club where Alec Baldwin’s General Dixon absolves Gilcrest of any criminal wrongdoing.  It turns out that the Air Force finally figured out what the second “mystery” payload of Brave Angel actually was.  Gilcrest then goes on to catch Ng at the hotel before she leaves for parts unknown.

As a rom-com Aloha works—barely.  Unfortunately the number of awkwardly staged set pieces, and creepy/oddly timed lines of dialog outweigh the few sweet moments of the film.  Crowe’s male actors fill their roles pretty well, and I particularly enjoyed the quirky eccentricity that Bill Murray injected into what could have been a bland and one-dimensional villain.  On the other hand Alec Baldwin wasn’t particularly believable as an over-animated, but then super chill four star general (how come every Hollywood general has to have four stars?).  Crowe’s female characters were where I had the most problems.  McAdams, who is an accomplished actress didn’t seem to have much to work with in the character of Tracy Woodside.  Conversely, Emma Stone, was asked to cover too much ground in a do-all/be-all-character.

Ultimately, the biggest casting complaint I have about Aloha is that Cameron Crowe missed an opportunity to put a truly native Hawaiian actress on-screen.  It’s a movie in Hawaii, partially about Hawaii, with a character who speaks Hawaiian and knows the Hawaiian legends.  What more excuse do you need to buck the typical Hollywood trend of casting white people as indigenous/POC?  It’s not that Emma Stone is a bad actress, but this wasn’t her part.  As it happened, the combination that is Captain Allison Ng on-screen both serves the appropriation narrative that we’re all (part) Hawaiian—even if we look Haole as all get out and distracts from the narrative itself.

Props to Crowe for his inclusion of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.  I really think he tried, not only in casting Dennis Kanahele and other Native Hawaiians as supporting cast/extras but also by including dialog by non-native characters that recognizes native rights to their own land.  What I am not so sure of is how non-kanaka maoli audiences will receive their portrayal and what I am really hoping does not come across is a sentiment that the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement is composed of what are politically irrelevant brown-skinned rednecks in search of cell service.   This film includes, by far, the most screen-time for the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement of any recent major release so far.  But that also reflects poorly on Hollywood as a whole if this is the best example that we have (while “The Descendants” talked about keeping land the cause was more sentimentality than sovereignty).

When I saw the trailer for Aloha, I really wanted to dislike the film (“All white people in a film on Hawaii?  What is this the Hawaiian version of Friends?”).   Then I was impressed to see Crowe’s seemingly honest inclusion of a part of the Hawaiian story that Hollywood actively avoids.  In the end, I was left with mixed feelings.  Just in terms of film mechanics, Aloha could have been much smoother than it was.  In terms of recognizing Hawaiian sovereignty and the current occupation of the islands, it could have said so much more both via scripting and casting.  In the end Aloha finishes as a tempting, but sadly missed opportunity to both tell a good story and make an important stand.

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On Food and Giving Thanks for Neoliberalism: Taking the Capital out of Thanksgiving by Matt Cumings

Tis the season for turkey, and  I just really want to talk about food!  Mmmmmm, yummy food my favorite of which, like a teenager, is still the turkey leg! Speaking of turkeys, here’s a nice letter from your last local turkey farmer. Or how about pumpkin pie, I really don’t eat it any other time of the year, the same thing with cranberries and persimmons. Persimmons are such a strange fruit, much like the strange fruit the american empire continues to bear:

“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” – Jesus

As much as we may complain about having to put up with our racist right wing Fox watching uncle during thanksgiving everyone looks forward to the meal time at least. If you do want to learn to learn to engage constructively with the “Christian Right” you should check out Andrea Smith’s Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. The table ethic is the liminal space that embodies the idea of shalom in one event. Food, shelter, and community and enough for everyone.  Native Americans approach every meal with the sort of thankfulness we are often intentional about only one day a year. Of course, we have a tendency to commodify holy days and appropriate others’ spirituality, one could make a case that Thanksgiving is an appropriation of not even Indigenous spirituality but that actually embodiment of a people. You can get educated on Native appropriations at Dr. Keene’s blog if you’d like. Or you can read about the eurocentric mindset firsthand from different perspectives!

Continue reading

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America: Imagine Apples and Oranges by Randy Woodley

I recently saw Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine A World Without Her with my 19 year old son. I won’t dignify the sorts of arguments he makes with a counter argument to any of the ridiculous historical inaccuracies given but simply make note of the many manipulative tools I observed that were used. I would rank the level of propaganda used in this film right up there with Joseph Goebbels Nazism and other effective propaganda movements.

Eric Hoffer, in his classic The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements (1951) wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” Who is D’Souza’s devil? The American “liberal” who is “re-writing history” and committing national “suicide.” Well, fear is a great motivator but after the truth eventually bears itself out, (and elections are over) people stop being afraid of the devil you made up. I mention elections because to my chagrin, the last 1/3 of the movie was an anti-Obama, and especially anti-Hillary Clinton campaign, which belied the real intention of the movie, namely, “STOP THE DEMOCRATS!”

All the typical propaganda tools were used; playing on people’s fears, inflating and deflating numbers and statistics, exaggerating claims, majoring on the minors, conflating non-related ideas, answering systemic concerns with individual examples, attacks without evidence, using non-experts and making them look like real experts, leading questions, false assumptions, creating only binary choices, etc. All of this in the end, makes D’Souza’s America both good and great, and it makes those who want to use their freedom of speech to represent the oppressed in order to build a better America, look like enemies of the state.

In D’Souza’s America there was no genocide on Native Americans, the land was never stolen, Black chattel slavery was unfortunate but after all, some Blacks held slaves too, Mexico was not stolen, there were no impure motives for Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan. This sort of telling is reminiscent of those who deny the Nazi holocaust against the Jews and theatres should be ashamed to advertise it as a documentary. It’s everything White ultra-conservatives want to hear-but no one in the film ever bothers to asks the truly oppressed person, “how has it been for you?” And no one in the film asked the rest of the world, in which America consumes most of the resources, “America, can you imagine a world without her?”

In the Unsettling of America Wendell Berry writes, “The first principle of the exploitive mind is to divide and conquer.” D’Souza is a divider and an exploiter. He is not trying to make a better America, he is simply an extreme conservative operative behind a thin veil of patriotism who is trying to make a more effective smear campaign in preparation for the 2016 elections. One of the many “best American values” missing from the film was honesty. This is not an attempt at dialogue or even an effective argument between conservatives and progressives; this film was a sham. My son and I agreed, it was a poor use of $23.50 and several hours time.

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Indigenous Young People-Your Future and the Big Picture By Uncle Randy Woodley

As I look at the world that my generation is handing down to you…you, the first of the next seven generations and at your future, I grieve. But, I also see with this great challenge, great hope. I want to give you some advice to consider as you choose your fields of expertise and lifestyle. Our Mother Earth is in trouble…my generation has made it this way. If you don’t do something differently, you will continue the systemic evils that haunt our planet. While I cannot imagine the earth ceasing, I can imagine an earth surviving without humans. This would be tragic since it is our responsibility to maintain life’s harmony, but we have not done a good job of it. (Note: This applies directly to the US but Canada is not far behind).

young Indian boyIn my book, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, I set out a simple thesis concerning how the earth is responding to our abuse and neglect. (This is a long quote but please read it):

Americans tend to be pragmatic people except when they are held captive to a false ideology. I wonder what it will take for us to hear the sound of the alarm going off in our world right now. I will leave it to the dozens of other books out there to explain the specifics of our impending disaster and only note that topsoil is disappearing…forest are shrinking…desertification is advancing…coral reefs are dying…plants, fish, insects, birds and animal species are all going extinct… and our fresh water sources are being depleted! Serious concerns exist at every level from local to global. Continue reading

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Revenge of the Rickshaw Rally by Daniel Fan

In the summer of 2004, LifeWay Publishing released “Rickshaw Rally: Racing to the Son,” a vacation bible school curriculum that was saturated with stereotypical images of Asians, mixing of different cultural heritages, and in general, a heaping pile of racism with a little “Jesus” sprinkled on top.  When Asian American community members complained they were told that the offense was not intentional and furthermore: “this curriculum is really about preaching Jesus, and I wouldn’t want you to do anything that would stop Jesus from bring preached.”  Non-Asians Americans also voiced their frustration with Rickshaw Rally, but LifeWay brushed these objections aside.  Nearly ten years later, at the 2013 Mosaix Multi-Ethnic Church Conference LifeWay released this 1-1/2 minute apology for Rickshaw Rally:  http://vimeo.com/78735039

But this apology is not as simple as it sounds, nor is it necessarily a viable entrée into further dialog as some may have hoped… 

“You’re here because you know something…that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” –Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, “The Matrix” (1999)

Life is a story.  And how we tell that story says as much about us as it does about the world we are trying to describe.

Every story has a protagonist.  In our westernized mind set, the protagonist is always an individual, even if that individual is one among many working for the same goal.  However, something about that protagonist will stand out, or be made to stand out.  He may be a wounded soul, or extraordinarily dumb; she may be particularly intelligent or particularly impetuous.

The story of Rickshaw Rally cannot be told in its entirety without recounting the prominent activism of people like Soong-Chan Rah.  This is the story of a small band of Asian American Christians that dared to challenge the juggernaut of Christian publishing, and won: it was their risk-filled ten-year struggle that precipitated the apology delivered on November 7th, 2013, at the Mosaix Conference by LifeWay president Thom Rainer.

Or is it?

Every story has an antagonist.  Sometimes the antagonist is a specific person, but it can also be something less anthropocentric, like a storm, a shark, or a mass of zombies.  LifeWay, at the time, refused to alter or remove the offensive Rickshaw Rally curriculum from circulation.  In fact, some churches within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) were compelled to purchase and used the material even after members of the SBC voiced their own objections to the material.  Nor did any particular LifeWay leader stand out to answer for or defend the decisions which led to Rickshaw Rally’s genesis or publication.

“Relax, you’ve been erased”—US Marshal John Kruger, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Eraser” (1996)

LifeWay’s November 7th apology made no mention of the heroic activism by members of any ethnicity who opposed their original Rickshaw Rally curriculum.  When specific members of the Asian American community, including Soong-Chan Rah and others challenged the curriculum, LifeWay plodded forward as an uncaring, impersonal, unknowable, faceless, amorphous and unaccountable force of nature.  But in LifeWay’s November 7th “apology” Thom Rainer is the focal point, and those who dared act as speed-bumps before the steamroller of evangelistic racial stereotyping that was Rickshaw Rally are reduced to the mere mention of “some.”   Now it is those “many in the Asian American community” that are the faceless mob.  Furthermore Rainer makes no mention of who LifeWay will be accountable to with only a vague reference to future dialogue with “ethnic leaders.”  In fact, the curriculum itself receives more mention in the apology than those who fought against it.

By replacing Asian American activists with a white CEO in the role of protagonist, LifeWay has fundamentally altered the structure of this narrative.  In effect, the tale has gone from David v. Goliath, a story of under-dog protest, activism, suffering, and risk, to one of self-realized/actualized repentance.  Yes, LifeWay apologized, but did they apologize because they suddenly decided they were wrong? or because they truly valued and listened to the concerns that were raised by Asian Americans and other people of color?  Thom Rainer states “LifeWay will continue to train our staff to be aware of and sensitive to ethnic and cultural difference so that our materials continue to respectfully represent all people groups.”  Really?  Where is the continuity?  If LifeWay’s material had respectfully represented all people groups ten years ago, then what were my Asian, African American, and some white brothers and sisters protesting about all this time?  Doesn’t the erasure of Asian American activism from this story form a second offense: further reinforcing Asian invisibility and insignificance?

You see, how we tell the story matters.

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” –Obi Wan Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guiness, “Return of the Jedi” (1983)

Film schools sometimes use an interesting exercise to teach students about story-telling.  The assignment will be to take a film of a certain genre and cut/splice scenes to fit a completely different genre.  An example might be cutting “Bridge Jones’s Diary” (a 2001 romantic comedy) in such a way as to convince the audience that the film is actually a 007-esque techno-spy thriller.  Within our individualistic culture, protagonists are always individuals.  The individual carries the story.  Therefore, in a story with only two individuals, deleting the protagonist always results in the antagonist becoming the new protagonist.  Like the film school exercise, but with far greater historical implications: LifeWay’s apology conveniently slices up past historical events, and recasts their CEO as the individual, personal, relatable activist/protagonist while Asian Americans become the faceless complainants.  In doing so LifeWay has not simply erased the true hero-activists of this story, but has replaced them with a pretender of its own creation.  A more thorough corruption is difficult to imagine.

“Some of the most successful relationships are based on lies and deceit. Since that’s where they usually end up anyway, it’s a logical place to start.”—Yuri Orlov, played by Nicholas Cage, “Lord of War” (2005)

But is this where we as Christians want to start our dialogues?  What kind of relationship can be built on such a corrupt foundation?  The erasure of my activist uncles and aunties troubles me far more than any race-mixing stereotypes.  I refuse to sacrifice the prophets of my people before the idol of LifeWay’s “apology.”

Now playing: “Revenge of the Rickshaw Rally” where the white supremacist system that spawned such racist curriculum seeks to supplant the very heroes who fought to banish it.  This is one show I won’t be buying tickets to, and neither should you.

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Three Questions to ask of any Social Justice Narrative by Daniel Fan

Do you Do Do Justice?*

Has anyone ever pitched you a social justice initiative, and after the conclusion you thought “Something doesn’t feel right about this, but I don’t know what it is”? Maybe your instincts were right, but you couldn’t articulate exactly what was wrong? Yeah, I’ve been there too.

Justice is a potentially simple concept, but the transition from theory to practice can be extremely complicated and fraught with danger. It is entirely possible to enact injustice or oppression while attempting to do justice.

Here are three simple questions you can ask in order to quickly analyze any social justice pitch:

  • Whose story is being told?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • If they are different people or parties, why is one telling the other’s story? Continue reading
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From the Postcolonial Peanut Gallery: Disney’s The Lone Ranger and the Disappearing Indian by Daniel Fan

A second pillar of white supremacy is the logic of genocide. This logic holds that indigenous peoples must disappear. In fact, they must always be disappearing, in order to allow non-indigenous peoples rightful claim over this land. Through this logic of genocide, non-Native peoples then become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous-land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture.
–Andrea Smith (“Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy” from The Color of Violence)

The Lone Ranger MovieI had seen enough from the previews to think I wasn’t going to like Disney’s The Lone Ranger, but I wanted to actually view the film before judging it. 

The Lone Ranger opens with a young turn-of-the-century white boy, dressed in a Lone Ranger costume, attending a carnival in San Francisco that includes a quasi-historical display of what can only be described as the conquered west.  The boy passes displays of a buffalo, a grizzly bear, and finally “The Noble Savage,” a wax-like figurine who turns out to be none other than Tonto, or “THE Tonto!?!” as the amazed white boy exclaims.

Tonto expresses himself in the classic incorrect-personal pronoun Indian speak.  There is no way that a Lone Ranger film could have been made without a shout-out to the 1930s radio series that first introduced/fabricated Tonto’s distinct style of speech.  But unlike other iconic and even idiosyncratic speaking styles, e.g. Star War’s Yoda, Tonto actually represents a real ethnicity.  As Randy Woodley, Keetoowah Cherokee (legal descendant) observed, Tonto’s speech demonstrates a paternalistic white view of Native Americans in the same way that “me love you long time” stands in for Asians/Asian Americans.  Disney could have easily dealt with the nostalgic aspects of the series and legitimate native concerns by having the Tonto character address the Lone Ranger directly “You think all Indian talk like this? We don’t and we never have” and continue with normal dialogue (a confrontation that actually happened in the 1980s Lone Ranger comics).  Continue reading

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