Posts Tagged ‘Barbarian Princess


Barbarian at the Gates

The movie poster for Princess Kaiulani on display at the Consolidated's Kahala & Ward Theaters in anticipation of it's May 14 release here in the islands.

It might not be Iron Man 2, but the local release of Princess Kaiulani next week Friday, May 14 is nearly upon us. Back in October there was a lot of attention being drawn towards the film, particularly because: 1) it was a depiction of a historical Hawaiian figure shot here in Hawaii, 2) it was going to get it’s first on screen, real audience appearance at the Hawaii International Film Festival, and 3) it’s former name, ‘Barbarian Princess,’ was not sitting well with many locals and those in the Hawaiian community. As such it debuted at HIFF to record crowds, so much so that additional screenings were added to fill the demand.

With such an enormous amount of hype and hoopla surrounding the film’s debut at HIFF, I’m actually kind of surprised there’s not more attention being drawn to the film now that distributor Roadside Attractions is going to give the film a limited release here in the islands and in select theaters across the country (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York–with the possibility of wider expansion to follow).

At the time of HIFF in October, I was a little skeptical that anyone would be able to see this picture outside of the film festival circuit. To my knowledge no other feature film about Hawaiian history had ever been shown in theaters (Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor doesn’t count). I mean, what kind of market is out there for a movie like this? Obviously this is going to play to the indie film niche, but would people outside of Hawaii be interested in seeing this? Never the less, I’m still rather excited that this film is going to get an honest to God theatrical release. I wouldn’t be surprised if it even gets reviewed on At The Movies.

One noticeable difference between the film then and now is the obvious title change. As I mentioned earlier, during production and at HIFF the film went by it’s original title, ‘Barbarian Princess.” After being picked up by Roadside Attractions I guess they felt that the title needed to be changed. During HIFF I crafted this post which advocated for keeping the title as is because I believed (and still do) that the juxtaposition of the title with what is shown on screen will make people think and ultimately realize that she wasn’t wasn’t the title, or her critics during that time, labeled her as.

However, I’m fine with the name change now because I can see how the title would make it difficult to market the film to a large audience. I think the mentality is that by making the title more straightforward, it won’t confuse potential moviegoers. Say what you will, but I can see how Barbarian Princess might confuse some people into thinking that this is some kind of 10,000 BC sequel. In any case, check out the trailer for Princess Kaiulani below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Biased or not, I think the trailer sells the movie. All that’s left is for everyone to go see it!


The Curious Case of a Barbarian Princess


We Hawaiians are a funny bunch. We want the moon but we don’t want to lasso it and pull it down ourselves. We also can’t make decisions together (another post altogether–actually, another blog altogether). Here’s the setup: a movie or tv show is made about or depicts characters from Hawaii. Protests and objections ensue because the representations of locals, specifically Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture, are depicted inaccurately.

Case in Point: Barbarian Princess. It tells the story of one of the kingdom of Hawaii’s last royals, a young girl who at age 17 had to deal with the aftermath of her homeland being dissolved. As far as I know, this is the first legitimate movie to showcase Hawaiian history AND have a chance for some kind of release beyond the shores of Hawaii. At the heart of the “controversy” is that the lead actress is not of Hawaiian ancestry and that the title of the film is inaccurate and offensive (reports via Honolulu Advertiser and KHNL).

Ok, I get it. Ideally we’d like to have our own people (Hawaiians) play roles based on ourselves. I also can see how at first glance the title Barbarian Princess may seem offensive. But my feeling is that these are small gripes in the bigger scheme of things. Here we have a movie about our people that could potentially be released across the country–a movie that tells the story of Hawaii, its people, and our history. In essence, something to educate the world about Hawaii. Doesn’t this sound like a good thing?

An early poster for the movie which shows the film's previous title.

An early poster for the movie which shows the film's previous title.

I say, it is. As a movie person, when I put down the $10 that it costs for a movie ticket these days I want to be sure that I’m paying for something good. If the actor chosen for a role can act, portray their character well, and make the audience believe that they are that character then what does it matter what race, ethnicity or gender they are? Throughout the history of Hollywood there have been tons of cases where actors have been chosen for roles where they might not have originally fit. An African American actor in place of a Caucasian one, a male character rewritten as a female one, and all different other scenarios. The fact of the matter is, in movies actors take on the role of someone other than themself and so I have no problem with a non-Hawaiian playing a Hawaiian.

As for the title of the movie, Barbarian Princess, I actually like the title and applaud the producers for going back to it. Originally the title was given to Ka’iulani by the media during that time in anti-monarchy propaganda, when in actuality she was far from it. This is the message that the creators of the movie are trying to convey. By naming the movie Barbarian Princess, something clearly Ka’iulani was not, it sets up an allegory for the audience. For us here in Hawaii, before we see the movie we question title as we see it as something that’s not true. For those outside of Hawaii, or have little to no knowledge of Hawaiian history, they see the title and after watching the movie find out that she wasn’t actually a “barbarian princess” and then wonder why the movie was given that title. In both cases, the title Barbarian Princess gives people something to think about and chew on–which in the end is something that any good movie does . . . it challenges you and makes you think.

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