I Am a Pacific Islander

Popular culture can easily influence people’s perspective into what a movie, television show, or ad is displaying.  Different races have been portrayed through media for years and have created numerous stereotypes for almost every single race.  However, are the stereotypes true?  Do people actually believe the stereotypes that popular culture portrays?  From what viewers see, they start to believe what pop culture is showing them, regardless of the accuracy of the portrayal of certain races.  One race that has been both positively and negatively stereotyped through many television shows and movies is Pacific Islanders.  In media, “Pacific Islanders—particularly Polynesians—are portrayed as a simple people lacking in complexity, intellect, or ambition. Acting always as a group, Pacific characters can be seen running, fishing, or eating..,” (Representations of Pacific Islanders in Film and Video, Hereniko).  Everyone that watches movies or television shows based on pacific islanders have different perspectives of pacific islanders afterwards.  Some, but not all Pacific Islanders see movies that depict themselves to be incorrect and some may even get offended while watching.  Then when non-Pacific Islanders watch movies portraying Pacific Islanders, they believe almost every detail from pop culture’s idea about Pacific Islanders to be accurate. Three movies that are great pop culture examples that portray stereotypes of pacific islanders and their lifestyles are Lilo and Stitch, Hawaii Five-0, and 50 First Dates.

In the Disney movie, Lilo and Stitch, directed by Dean Deblois, it is the story about a friendship between a little Hawaiian girl named Lilo and her pet, Stitch.  Through hard times in her life, Lilo finds ways to get her family and herself through them.  There are many stereotypes of pacific islanders all throughout this film.  Many scenes showed Lilo, Stitch, her older sister Nani, and Nani’s friend, David, at the beach.  One scene in particular showed all four characters spending a day at the beach surfing.  Each of them can surf and this can create a stereotype in viewers’ minds that all Pacific Islanders can surf.  However, not everyone has the skill or interest to surf.  “Hawaii has great weather year-round and has great waves for surfing, but not everyone that lives in Hawaii grew up around surf. For people that live in the city, the beach is not that close” (5 Common Misconceptions About Hawaii, Lum).  Another stereotype that could be created in this movie is the freedom that Pacific Islander children have.  In many parts of the movie, Lilo goes to different places around the island by herself or with Stitch.  She is rarely accompanied by Nani when she goes to places and seems really comfortable with her surroundings.  One aspect that could lead Lilo to feel comfortable enough to go around the island by herself is the community that she lives in.  Pacific Islanders are always looking out for other locals and will do anything for them.  From experience, I can approve that the stereotype of Pacific Islander children being free to go wherever, whenever is not true.  I was not even allowed to leave the house unless I could get permission to do so.  Even if I could leave the house, the only reason I wanted to go outside was to go to my best friend’s house and she was my neighbor.  Moving on, although there are many children who live on a small island such as Kauai, actual Pacific Islander children are always with some type of guardian or caretaker.  Even in this loveable Disney movie, the characters and their lifestyles create a few stereotypes about Pacific Islanders

The television show, Hawaii Five-0, produced by Leonard Freeman is about a police officer named Steve McGarret and his return to Hawaii to find out who killed his father.  He is joined by his Honolulu police force team—Chin Ho Kelly, Danny “Danno” Williams, and Kono Kalakaua.  Throughout the seasons, one common aspect that can be heard is the use of the pacific islander slang, “pigeon.”  This slang is used amongst many locals and Pacific Islanders and has been around for quite a while.  For example, a phrase such as “How are you doing?” is equivalent to the “pigeon” slang, “Howzit?”  So in the television show, a lot of the characters speak “pigeon,” but they do it in an excessive manor to the point that it is irritating.  People who do not live in an area where they are not used to hearing “pigeon” will not mind hearing the overuse of it, but locals and Pacific Islanders will see or hear things differently.  From living in an environment where people speak “pigeon,” I can say that not a lot of people speak that way 24/7.   Pacific Islanders have an on and off switch for speaking “pigeon” and know when speaking in our slang is appropriate such as in an interview or being in an environment where people do not know “pigeon.”  When Pacific Islanders hear other Pacific Islanders speak “pigeon,” it sounds natural, but when people who do not speak the local slang try to speak like locals, it becomes weird and irritating.  Viewers watching this television show will most likely conclude that Pacific Islanders speak in a slang that is almost hard to understand.  This could then potentially lead to the stereotype that Pacific Islanders are dumb and cannot speak correctly.  From this show, the stereotype that can be created of Pacific Islanders is that they like to speak in a slang that is almost incomprehensible.

Directed by Peter Segal, the movie, 50 First Dates, is about a man trying to make a woman fall in love him even though she suffers from memory loss and forgets about him at the end of each day.  The setting of this movie is in Hawaii with a lot of greenery, ocean, and sun.  Adam Sandler’s character, Henry Roth, works at Sea Life Park with different animals such as penguins and walruses.  While living and working in Hawaii, he met his friend, Ula, along the way.  The way that this movie portrays Ula is as a tan, short, chubby, and crazy Pacific Islander.  He walks around with either an aloha shirt or he goes shirtless, shorts, and rubber slippers.  Ula has five children and a very big Pacific Islander wife.  The children seem wild and the wife looks grouchy and intimidating.  Viewers that watch this movie would think that male Pacific Islanders walk around and look like Ula, women are big and intimidating, and “local kids hang out all day in the sun instead of going to school” (Tvtropes.org).  However, being a Pacific Islander, I can say that this isn’t the truth.  Pacific Islander men do not walk around without a shirt unless they are homeless, not all of them are fat, and not every man wears aloha shirts.  As for Pacific Islander women, not all of them are big and intimidating.  Most women may look intimidating, but they can be some of the most compassionate women.  Pacific Islander children are not wild, but instead they are some of the most relaxed, laid-back kids.  Altogether, watching this movie can create a stereotype in viewers’ minds that Pacific Islander families have big family members, are intimidating, and contain a lot of children.

Certain pop culture media that portrays Pacific Islanders can influence viewers’ perspectives on how they see pacific islanders.  From the stereotype of all Pacific Islanders being able to surf to the stereotype that all Pacific Islanders wear aloha shirts, non-Pacific Islanders believe them all thanks to movies and television shows portraying Pacific Islanders.  Most Pacific Islanders see movies such as the ones that I explained as mostly inaccurate, but at the same time interesting to watch because the show/movie takes place in Hawaii.  However, when others watch movies that have Pacific Islanders involved, they believe that how the actors are acting is how Pacific Islanders behave on a daily basis.  In my perspective, I do not find the way that pop culture is portraying Pacific Islanders to be seen negatively.  I actually find some of the scenes to be humorous!  In all, pop culture portrays Pacific Islanders to be an intimidating, slang speaking, and adventurous people.

















Works Cited


Freeman, Leonard, prod. Hawaii Five-0. CBS. Honolulu, Hawaii, 2010. Television.


Hereniko, Vilsoni. “Representations of Pacific Islanders in Film and Video.” YIDFF.          Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.      <http://www.yidff.jp/docbox/14/box14-3-e.html&gt;.


“Hula and Luaus.” TvTropes. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.            <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HulaAndLuaus&gt;.


Lum, Ron. “5 Common Misconceptions About Hawaii.” The Hawaii Plan. N.p., 2012.     Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.thehawaiiplan.com/5-common-misconceptions-          about-hawaii/>.


Lilo and Stitch.  Dir. Dean Deblois, Dir. Chris Sanders.  Disney, 2002.



Freeman, Leonard, prod. Hawaii Five-0. CBS. Honolulu, Hawaii, 2010. Television.



50 First Dates.  Dir. Peter Segal.  Columbia, 2004.




One thought on “I Am a Pacific Islander

  1. Hey!

    I’m also from Hawaii, though I’m pretty darn white (ethnicity-wise). Growing up in the Pacific, I experienced a lot of racial prejudices, including the ones you’re focusing on: that Islanders are primitive and intellectually inferior. The “pidgin” accent isn’t doing anyone any favors, either. Like you said, it’s super irritating when people who can’t speak it well, try to. My dad does that. And DOG the bounty hunter, sweet jesus.

    Every time I mention I’m from Hawaii, I immediately get asked if I can surf; I can’t. It’s endlessly annoying, but so unavoidable, haha. Also, I can back you up on the keiki freedom point; I never was allowed to wander as a child, that’s just crazy.

    In my essay, I struggled with the idea of priming real life for Hollywood. That pop culture can NEVER be accurate because then people wouldn’t watch it. The media takes aspects of Hawaii that are funny or ridiculous and uses only those to portray it because it calls on the laugh track. It’s a sad but true part of pop culture, and I try to just be happy that Hawaii’s publicized at all.

    Then there’s the matter of tourism, which makes me wish no one knew about Hawaii so that I wouldn’t have to wade through the TONS of traffic every time I visit home. That’s life, right? No ka oi.

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