Category Archives: film

The Best Films about Hawaiʻi

I show my students the 1966 film Hawaii, based on James Michener’s book, partly so that we can deconstruct it. Students can see that it demeans Hawaiian culture, but then I ask them if things are any better today. Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture continue to be misrepresented in mainstream media. Exhibit A: Aloha the film about how everyone in Hawaiʻi is white (except Bumpy). I reviewed The Descendents and Princess Kaʻiulani when they were released. There isnʻt exactly a deep reservoir of films to choose from for this list, but as Puhipau and Joan Lander are being honored this week in the ʻOiwi Film Festival, here are some gems of the Hawaiian silver screen:

A Mau a Mau: While some may dispute John Kaʻimikaua’s oral histories, it’s hard to deny the quality of the filmmaking. Nalani Minton’s film captures the Hawaiian sense of connection with the most subtle aspects of the natural world: the wind, the sea, the sea spray.


Hoʻokūʻikahi: To Unify as One – This telling of the events of Puʻukoholā heiau, both historically and today (beginning with the 1991 ceremony of rekindling the ties between Kaʻu and Kohala after 200 years of bitterness) is one of the films that shows Hawaiian culture as living and vibrant – not museum culture. John Keola Lake says in the film: “we don’t want to use [Puʻukoholā] as a memorial, let’s use it as a living place.”


Puʻukoholā heiau (photo: wikimedia commons)

O Hawaiʻi: Of Hawaiʻi from Settlement to Unification – an invaluable curriculum resource for teaching traditional Hawaiian society, Iʻm not sure whether the film was ever released on DVD. Tom Coffman’s film shows the renewal of the field of Hawaiian history itself  (with the help of archaeology and linguistics), from something static, relegated to “the mists of time” to a vibrant, dynamic era, full of change.

Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation – What is there to say about what is almost certainly the most watched film on Hawaiian history, it is also the only film Iʻm aware of that has a footnoted script!

Stolen Waters – While Puhipau and Joan Lander were clearly on the side of Windward farmers (as the title implies), they do a fine job of showing the arguments of the Leeward (Big 5) interests and their pawns. Another version, Kalo Paʻa o Waiahole, can be use alternately to emphasize the hearings or the more esoteric meaning of wai for Hawaiians.

Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaiʻi – Keala Kelly attempted something very difficult with her film; to have a story without a narrator. The characters, interviewees and events themselves tell the story, and few films are more brutally powerful. While not as aesthetic as the first two films in this list, Noho Hewa is nevertheless a must see (leave the kids at home).


Filed under Education, Environment, film, Hawaiian history

Russia (and Hawai’i) in House of Cards

I haven’t binge-watched season three of House of Cards so while there are some episode spoilers here there are no season spoilers. I’m on episode 3, which is about where any reasonable person would be…

Brian Schatz and Maizie Hirono must have been thrilled to be featured in the Netflix hit show House of Cards’ third season. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia is probably less so. A character based on Schatz offers President Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) right-hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) a job at an “above the cap” salary. Stamper refuses though the new right hand says “Freshman Senator from Hawai’i?  he’s a nice guy.” “Who is the senior Senator from Hawai’i?” Stamper interrogates. He says he can’t remember, to which Stamper replies “It’s [a Japanese woman meant to be Hirono], so how would you know [Schatz] is a nice guy? The President is behind this.” Underwood may indeed be trying to keep Stamper at arm’s length because of a brewing scandal involving a prostitute paid to distract an errant Congressman who ends up dead.

Reviews of the new season have been luke warm – the thrill of chasing the Presidency has been replaced by the banality of the daily task of governing. But the depiction of Putin, by Lars Mikkelsen, is spot on: charming, deadly, and a “thug,” as First Lady (and now UN Ambassdor) Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) describes him. A pure political animal. His attitude is best summed up by a story he tells Underwood at the end of episode 3, which is his way of refusing a Middle East deal: “You what the best part of the fall of the Soviet Union was? The cars. Have you ever ridden in a Lada?” Underwood, taken in, says he hasn’t. “Putin” – the names have been changed to protect the guilty – describes the “worst car in the world.” “After the fall, we got the Lexus. Lots of room, AC… the first time I [expletive]d my ex-wife, it was in a Lexus – you could never do that in a Lada.” Underwood is now really taken in. “I want the Lexus. You’re offering me a Lada.”

The really chilling part for me was that I had just watched a Frontline episode on “Putin’s Way” – the “Russian way” – depicting the unprecedented corruption and illegality which had helped secure Putin’s power as the successor to Boris Yeltsin in the late 1990s. The most enigmatic of countries, Russia under Putin has gone from the symbol of Communist [forced] equality to the most unequal country in the world. The average Russian now earns only $871 per year and 110 Russian “oligarchs” control 35% of the countries wealth. Putin, for his trouble, is estimated to be worth $40 billion, making him about the fourth or fifth richest men in the world (these are CIA estimates).

 My unrequested political analysis: Underwood’s “America Works” program is ludicrous – full employment? Even Obamacare recognizes that a few will always choose not to have healthcare at any price. Likewise, a few (probably very many) will always be unmatched for jobs no matter how unskilled. The star of episode one? Steven Colbert: “AmWorks? Is that what you’re calling this? Is it like Amway, some kind of pyramid scheme?”

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WikiReVu – Selma by Kawika Liu

This review attempts to contextualize ‘Selma’ in view of Hawai’i and current events; I am not a critic, so it is simply my perspective. That said, it is an amazing film, directed by a rare African American woman director, Ava DuVernay, with a powerful, yet subtle performance by David Oyelowo. The film highlights MLK’s humanity, that he was not perfect, but faced internal struggles contemporaneously with the external struggle that he helped lead. Fractures were developing between the mainstream SCLC and the young, as represented by SNCC, who were increasingly impatient with what they perceived as the slow pace of change. Yet other fractures were healing, as the brief appearance of Malcom X (Nigel Thatch) demonstrates: his hajj and subsequent movement away from accepting violence led to what would have been a convergence to some extent with the thought and actions of MLK.


More than anything, particularly with the killings of Ferguson and going back to Trayvon Martin, ‘Selma’ reminds us that the struggle for human rights is far from over. Moreover, this struggle is not simply about racism and other forms of discrimination: it is a struggle that is intimately linked with all human rights, including struggles against poverty, inequity, and violence. There is no coincidence between the roles of the military in Hawai’i, the TMT conflict, the shooting of Kollin Elderts, and the lack of affordable housing: occupation and colonization and the children of capitalism and a racist ideology. A failure to understand and link struggles leads to divide and rule and the reproduction of hatred; this was the conclusion that MLK and Malcom X had reached, and certainly contributed to their assassinations. For the biggest threat to the existing system is solidarity; the biggest ally is division.


Berman A. What ‘Selma’ gets right – and wrong – about civil rights history. Nation. 2014 January 8. Available at:

Kawika Liu

Kawika Liu, PhD, JD, MD, is a physician and researcher at Consolidate Tribal Health Project, Inc. in Ukiah, CA. Formerly he was the Medical Director of the Moloka’i Community Health Center.

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How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: If you’ve stumbled on this post, Iʻm still working on it. Check back later.

My favorite TV show by far is the BBC/Masterpiece show Sherlock, but as my previous attempts to write about TV met with little interest, I thought I’d write about what really interests me in Holmes: how he thinks. Indeed, many of my recent posts, I realized, have been about how to think (The Psychology of Mālama ʻĀina, Philosophy as Therapy, Reason’s End, Sovereignty and Mental Models). So it was with great interest that I read Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, which I heard about from a Big Think video, and planned to read this summer. The book allowed me to muse over my favorite TV show, but also over the workings of my own mind. I found that I’d unconsciously been doing a lot of things right all this time.


Konnikova compares Holmesʻs brain attic to Shel Silverstein’s conception – the light in this attic really can be turned on or off

The primary focus of the book is what Holmes (or more accurately, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) calls “the brain attic.” This attic is a flexible, but not infinitely flexible, physical space in this conception: “maybe it has a chimney …  maybe it doesn’t,” but according to Holmes/Doyle, a person’s brain “is  like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose” (Konnikova, 26). From a very young age, I chose my furniture based on importance – to me, there were four domains of important information: literature, philosophy, history and art (actually, that’s an updated version, but basically it was those categories). I know that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs and Roger Maris hit 61 in a season, but there my sports knowledge ends (although I’ll admit I do know a lot of running stats). At age 9, while others were watching the world series or reading A Wrinkle in Time, I was reading Brave New World. I just had the feeling that this “furniture” in my mind would be of much more use someday than sports statistics or children’s books.

Thinking of the mind in this way is also helpful in reverse, allowing one to do what Sherlock is so good at: “guessing at the contents of a person’s attic from his outward appearance becomes one of Sherlock’s surest ways of determining who that person is and what he is capable of.” If you don’t know what I mean by this, just watch the video below.

This scene was modified from the original in The Sign of Four, but replaced a pocket watch with a cell phone.

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Frozen as Free Trade Propaganda

I donʻt usually write reviews of Disney children’s films, but I saw Frozen with my 6 year old daughter, was struck by the free trade rhetoric, and thought “Hey Zizek would write about this..” Disney’s new movie Frozen depicts two (what else?) princesses of a stylized Nordic sovereign, one of whom has the power not only to freeze whatever she touches, but to create a frozen world. Because this power would be frightening to the subjects of this principality, she is kept isolated (Isolationist?) behind a “closed door policy” in the palace.

Her valiant and assertive sister Anna teams with the simple ice trader Kristoff to try to thaw the eternal winter that comes over the country when the new Queen Elsa has a fit of anger. This Cold War is marked by fear and paranoia and the restriction of trade with foreign powers who visit for the Queen’s coronation. Elsa sequesters herself in an ice palace isolated from the rest of the world (North Korea or Cuba, one cannot be sure). Anna becomes a victim of her sister’s misguided wrath – her heart is frozen and the only cure is “an act of love.” This act turns out to be her own act – self help offers a way out of the freeze. The dastardly diplomats are punished for trying to steal the kingdom with a revocation of trading privileges, as a new summer returns to the land. An “open gate policy” is restored as Queen Elsa sees the error of her protectionist ways.

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