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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2010

Let 'Princess Ka'iulani' tell its tale in style

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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"Princess Ka'iulani," the movie that opens today in limited release, is historical romance. When the temptation arises to get worked up over the artistic license the filmmakers took here, it helps to remember both words in that phrase.

This is the story of a historical character, one beloved by Hawai'i, in a romanticized cinematic setting. As for the romantic part, well, who can blame director Marc Forby for injecting a little extra into the story, the wholly made-up tale about the princess's love match in England? Romance wins hearts and rakes in ticket revenue.

This flourish is forgivable because it merely embellishes a narrative already endowed with elements that are, remarkably, true: a princess who happens to be beautiful and living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.

Reviews of the film have been mixed, but there are reasons to celebrate the fact of its production in any case.

The first is that the producers jettisoned the original title "Barbarian Princess." Yes, that slur was applied to Ka'iulani by 19th-century know-nothings and it still turns up in the film, but if the aim is to sketch a dimly understood piece of history in this short-attention-span world, choosing that as a title confuses more than it clarifies.

But the deconstruction of the film, a critique sparked by the title controversy, goes too far.

Those who complain that the actress in the title role, Q'Orianka Kilcher, is an indigenous Peruvian, not Native Hawaiian, don't credit the actress for her outspoken support of native issues.

She is an actress, after all, a professional who specializes in studying and portraying other people.

One website, barbarian princessmovie.com, picks apart the departures from history in great detail. That would be fine, had this been a documentary.

But it's not. At least one of the trailers includes a brief sequence displaying the words "based on the extraordinary true story." So at least they're honestly disclosing the fictional aspects. The better instinct may be to sit back and enjoy the fact that a film is at least delving into depictions never even touched in other popular treatments of the Islands.

In exchange for its indulgence of cinematic liberties, Hawai'i gets a wider audience to appreciate one of its strong, intelligent and cultured young women who showed courage and love for her people.

Considering that far too many of the uninitiated dismiss Hawaiian culture and history with a wink and a wave, that is not a bad bargain at all.