The Pacific Islander and Asian-American communities are up in arms over the historical inaccuracies the upcoming film “Ni’ihau” will tell about the Japanese and Japanese-Americans.
Many people, including writer and stand-up comedian Jenny Yang, took to social media to let their voices be heard after actor Zach McGowan was cast to portray the significant role of native Hawaiian hero Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele.
“I grew up in Hawaii and I am Japanese American so the latest whitewashing in the film Ni’ihau hits especially close to home,” Japanese-American actress Keiko Agena, who starred as Lane Kim on “Gilmore Girls”, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
She cited “Karate Kid II” and “The Joy Luck Club” actress Tamlyn Tomita, who actually had the opportunity to read the script for Gabriel Robertson’s “Ni’ihau”, which is still in development.
The Japanese-born American star, who last month expressed her desire to see more representation of “hot” Asian-American actors in movies, called the “Ni’ihau” script “a piece of sh*t and I am not mincing words” in an email.
“This continued practice of ‘white-washing’ characters and fictionalizing history is not only total bullsh*t, but further perpetuates the idea that only white people can play the heroes,” Tomita wrote.
The 51-year-old actress went on to say that the director did little research on native Hawaiians and Japanese-Americans living on the islands before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Tomita described the dialogue in the script as being “atrocious in tone, setting, and authenticity”.
She also pointed out that Robertson “has the gall to name two minor characters after two of the most cherished entertainers from Hawaii”, a token addition to an otherwise “Hawaiian-face” production.
And of course she let her thoughts on McGowan playing Kanahele be known, calling it “absolute WTF casting” and yet another case of “white-washing”.
“Ni’ihau” – let’s put a stop to this bullshit –https://t.co/CIMZy2RHRH
— Tamlyn Tomita (@thetamlyntomita) May 9, 2017
Tomita pointed out that attaching a fictionalized account of the actual Ni’ihau Incident with the reason that it was the whole cause of the incarneration of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans is misleading and simply untrue.
The Ni’ihau Incident
The incident occurred amidst the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7-13, 1941, when Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed his zero fighter aircraft on the island of Ni’ihau.
The island, which was owned by Aylmer Robinson, was mistakenly believed by the Imperial Japanese Navy to be uninhabited. Pilots were told to wait on Ni’ihau until a submarine could pick them up.
Nishikaichi didn’t know that the island was inhabited until one of its residents, Hawila Kaleohano, who was unaware of the attack on Pearl Harbor but knew of the conflict between Japan and the U.S at the time, came upon the wreckage.
Nishikaichi’s weapon and documents were confiscated, and since most of the islanders only spoke Hawaiian, it was difficult for Nishikaichi to find any assistance.
That’s where Yoshio and Irene Harada, a husband and wife of Japanese descent living on Ni’ihau, come in to the story — both of them spoke fluent Japanese. After speaking to Nishikaichi, the Haradas chose to keep the information Nishikaichi told them from the islanders, who showered the pilot with their hospitality, even throwing him a party.
The truth of why Nishikaichi landed on Ni’ihau eventually came to light, and it was decided that he would be handed over to Robinson’s custody. When Robinson failed to show up from the nearby Kaua’i due to the U.S. military’s ban on boat traffic to the islands, the Haradas offered Nishikaichi to stay at their residence, but under the condition that five guards stand outside.
On December 12, the trio managed to escape with two guns and began to search for the pilot’s papers and Kaleohano, who gave the documents to a relative for safekeeping and fled the island to find Robinson.
With Yoshio Harada’s help, Nishikaichi held a woman named Ella Kanahele hostage. Her husband, Benehakaka, tried to stall searching for Kaleohano in order to save his wife, knowing that the man had already left Ni’ihau.
Nishikaichi threatened to kill everyone, but Benehakaka heroically lunged at the pilot, who opened fire at him three times. In an equally heroic act, Ella hit the pilot on the head with a rock, giving her husband a chance to slam Nishikaichi into a wall and slit his throat.
Yoshio Harada, sadly, turned a shotgun on himself and took his own life.
Robinson made it back to Ni’ihau the following day, and took Irene Harada into custody, who was imprisoned for two and half years but never convicted. Ishimatsu Shintani, a 60-year-old beekeeper, was also brought in to custody for his part in the incident where he was the first to speak to Nishikaichi but relayed no information on what he said and left the scene abruptly.
Benehakaka was awarded the Purple Heart and Medal for Merit for his bravery.
The Haradas’ actions were later falsely cited as a cause for fear that Japanese-Americans would be loyal to Japan during World War II. Similarily, there is no evidence that the Ni’ihua Incident lead influenced the incarceration of Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps in early 1942.
In her Facebook post, Tomita explained that concentration camps came to pass because of “wartime hysteria, racial prejudice, and a failure of political leadership.”
Tomita said the director of “Ni’ihau” has no idea what “the inner conflicts of dual heritages, identities, and allegiances and what the stakes are in making such a choice.”
“So, yeah, sorry, there is no way I am going in for this.”