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Princess Ka’iulani film outrages some Hawaiians

March 20, 2008

Princess Ka’iulani film outrages some Hawaiians

Advertiser Final, MIKE GORDON, March 20, 2008.  A movie about Princess Ka’iulani currently filming on O’ahu has angered a small group of Hawaiians who say filmmakers are distorting the story of a beloved ali’i.
High on their list of complaints was the movie’s proposed title – “Barbarian Princess” – which was changed last weekend in an effort to ease tensions. The $9 million film now is titled “The Last Princess.”

But Hawai’i entertainer Palani Vaughan, who has complained about the film’s script since he read it in February, said he is not convinced that English director Marc Forby will accurately portray the life and times of Ka’iulani.

“A non-Hawaiian is trying to interpret in an un-Hawaiian way what he is supposing has happened,” Vaughan said. “Forby is coming and coloring it in a way that he would like to see it.”

Vaughan has organized several Hawaiians who plan to voice their concerns tomorrow outside ‘Iolani Palace, where the film will be shot next week. The group is also concerned that filming inside the palace could damage irreplaceable artifacts.

Ka’iulani, who died at age 23, witnessed the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893 and tried to restore Hawaiian self-rule. The filmmakers say the movie about her short life “is a breathtaking romance about an unlikely heroine and her unwavering fight to defend the independence of her people.”

Former Hawai’i resident Q’orianka Kilcher was cast as Ka’iulani. Kilcher portrayed Pocahontas in the 2005 film “The New World.”

The film is being made by Matador Pictures and Island Film Group.

Vaughan, who turned down the part of King Kalakaua, said filmmakers sprinkled the script with behavior unbefitting a princess and those around her, including one scene in which she tells the king she hates him and another in which her father, a non-Hawaiian, strikes her.

Vaughan strongly objected to a lovemaking scene and was told it would be removed.

“I have no personal agenda,” Vaughan said. “We just want this film to represent Hawaiian people both past and present in a true and accurate light. It is for the good of our people and the future.”

Hawaiian activist Henry Noa said he is worried about the interior of the palace.

“They will have all these people coming in and out of the palace that we revere,” he said. “That is a part of who we are. It is the pride and care we are concerned about. If it is damaged, who will be held accountable for that?”

Leilani Forby, an executive producer and the wife of the director, said everyone involved with the film has worked with cultural advisers, University of Hawai’i scholars and Hawaiian language experts for the past four years to foster accuracy.

“We have the utmost respect for Hawaiians,” said Forby, who grew up in Kailua. “That is what is driving the story. We want the world to know what happened.”

But the movie is a drama, she said.

“This is not and never has been intended to be a documentary,” Forby said. “I wouldn’t say things have been twisted. We have had to take several historical events and compress time just to get the important events on film.”

Forby said the film does not contain a love scene or any sexual reference.

“There is a love interest and there are tender scenes of this love blooming, but this is not going to be an R-rated film,” she said.

Protecting the palace is a top priority, Forby said. Everyone involved will wear soft booties to preserve the floor varnish as well as gloves. Replica furniture is also being made for interior use.

“We are going to have an inside crew and an outside crew and never the twain shall meet,” Forby said. “Once you are in, you are in and if you go out, you are out.”

The filmmakers have worked with palace caretakers to ensure that lighting does not overheat the interior and have hired an equipment manager from England who is familiar with filming inside national treasures, she said.

Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director at the palace, said it would be protected. Palace staff will always be on hand to escort the film crew, inside and outside.

“They will not harm anything,” he said. “We will make sure of that.”

Reach Mike Gordon at 525-8012 or mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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