How Hawai’i Residents Are Viewed in Popular Culture

map2cI have lived in Hawai’i, on the island of Kaua’i, for about 16 years. Once I had the chance to travel and experience going to different places on the mainland, there were so many different stereotypes and misconceptions being placed upon me because I was from Hawai’i. One of the many things I would hear people ask me was my mode of transportation.

“How did you get here? It must have been a long trip here on your canoe”.

Other misconceptions that I heard were:

“Do you know how to surf?”

Heck, I don’t even know how to swim that well. (Yes, I was raised on an island surrounded by water and don’t have excellent swimming skills)

“Do you know how to play the Ukulele? Could you teach us how to dance hula?”

“What is it like living in a grass hut?”

These are just a few of the many things I hear from people.

Hawai’i residents aren’t always represented appropriately in popular culture because of the many different stereotypes shown in the media. The identities of Hawai’i residents are viewed inaccurately, and sometimes exaggeratedly, because of the way popular culture represents us. Many times, we are viewed as a society that isn’t modernized.

Here is a following clip analyzed from the TV show Hawai’i Five-0:

768340HawaiiFive012The following clip was shown in the first episode of Season one of this popular crime/drama/action TV series shot on the island of O’ahu. As you saw in the clip, the guy asks the main character, Scott, why he doesn’t “look Hawaiian” even though he was born there. One of the biggest misconceptions that people don’t understand is the difference between being a Hawaiian and living in Hawai’i. Just because someone lives in Hawai’i, it doesn’t automatically make them Hawaiian.

According to Amy Sun, who wrote an article called “3 Myths about Native Hawaiians You Ought to Know Before Visiting Paradise,” she states that:

“A resident of Hawaii is someone (of any background) who just, you know, lives in Hawaii. A Native Hawaiian is someone who belongs to a specific group of people with shared traditions. Native Hawaiians, or kanaka maoli, are descendent from the original Polynesians who settled in Hawaii around the third century.”

20242816-Hula-Dancer-man-and-woman-Stock-Vector-hula-hawaiiWhen you search the term ‘Hawaiian’ on Google images, you will see pictures of tan hula dancers wearing leis and grass skirts. Yes, dancing hula is a part of the Hawaiian Culture, but it’s not something that we all can do.


Going back to the TV show, Hawai’i Five-0, one thing I did notice was that the show depicts various aspects of Hawai’i and not just the beaches and relaxing places, such as the city view of the island. Because this show is able to show different parts of the island and share the culture at the same time, it will attract more tourists and help them understand better that Hawai’i is just as modernized as other places.

The show also has a diverse set of main characters in the show, aside from the fact that the two main characters are white. The diversity of this show helps to compare and contrast the different types of people that live in Hawai’i and that it is a melting pot.

2016-05-31 (2)In fact, according to the “Population Demographics for Hawaii 2016 and 2015” by suburbanstats, the table shows that 38% of Hawai’i residents are Asian, 24% White, 9% Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander, 8% Hispanic or Latino, 5% Native Hawaiian, 1% African American, while the rest of the percentages have a mix of two or more races, or other.

But, because the main characters of this show who are considered ‘local’ are White and Asian, it makes the audience assume that Hawaiians are considered Asian, which is another misconception that most non-native Hawai’i residents receive.

“By placing Native Hawaiians in the “Asian” category, we systematically erase Native Hawaiian culture, identity, and most importantly, Native Hawaiian needs” (Sun).

Although there are now very few pure Native Hawaiians residing in the islands, there are locals that are part Hawaiian, mixed with another race. In Eugene Tyler Chamberlains article, “The Hawaiian Situation: The Invasion of Hawaii,” the reason for the small number of Native Hawaiians is because of the colonization of Hawai’i, which reduced the Native Hawaiian population, especially due to infectious diseases. Also, one of the reasons why Hawai’i has so many Asians is because

“Sugar growers, who dominated the islands’ economy, imported thousands of immigrant laborers first from China, then Japan, then Portuguese from Madeira and the Azores, followed by Puerto Ricans, Koreans, and most recently Filipinos” (Chamberlain).

50frstdatesAnother movie that I analyzed was “50 First Dates”. This movie, unlike Hawai’i Five-0, seems to mostly show the beach, a hut restaurant, and the outdoors, which was probably to romanticize Hawai’i because of its genre being romantic comedy. According to a movie review written by Michael Tsai,

“They reinforce a paradisiacal view of Hawai’i. You never see traffic jams or places where people live”.

One thing I wanted to point out in this movie was the character, Ula, who is portrayed as a Native Hawaiian. The mannerism of his character makes it seem like most Hawaiians are stupid and don’t have the ability to take care of themselves or their family. First of all, Ula was played by a famous actor, Rob Schneider, who isn’t a local. A local said that Ula is “more like what someone from the Mainland would think locals are like” (Tsai).

Aside from Ula’s mannerism, he tries to speak pidgin, a language used by most Hawai’i residents, as well as some Hawaiians, which seems to be made fun of in this film.

“I don’t know what he was speaking, but it wasn’t pidgin, and the stuff he said, you wouldn’t hear people say over here” (Tsai).

An example of things he would say are:

“Quit busting my coconuts for five seconds”, “You’re such a lau lau”, and this part of the movie where he tries to speak Hawaiian:

Even though this movie is a comedy, only the locals who know about Pidgin and the Hawaiian language would really understand what is being made fun of and its comedic purpose. Locals would be able to notice their misuse of the language, and that they are just putting a bunch of random things together just to make it sound funny. But because this is a Hollywood movie, which targets more people who don’t live in Hawai’i, non-locals are assumed to believe that this is how we really talk and converse with other people. They may even try to imitate and make fun of the language itself.

shirt-tumblrAnother detail I noticed about this movie was that the main character, Henry, was wearing Hawaiian shirts most of the time, as well as some of the background characters in the movie. In reality, the only people you will really see wearing Hawaiian shirts are the tourists. Sometimes locals will wear them, but usually on occasions like a lu’au, may day, or if it’s part of their dress code for work. The fact that Henry is wearing a Hawaiian shirt all the time shows that this is how popular culture views the residents of Hawai’i and that we aren’t modernized enough to have the same types of clothing that everyone else has in the U.S.

liloandstitchEven in the movie “Lilo & Stitch”, Lilo is always wearing a red Hawaiian dress, while Nani always has her stomach exposed, as she wears skimpy clothing. Most of the characters in this movie seems to know how to play the ukulele, dance hula, and surf. Like I said before, just because we are from Hawai’i, it doesn’t mean we know how to do these things. Although, in school, students have the option to learn how to play the ukulele as an elective, which I had the opportunity to do. But not everyone takes the time to learn how to play this instrument. And even though Hawai’i is surrounded by water, making it easy to have access to the ocean, not all of us go to the beach to surf.

After analyzing all of these artifacts, I wondered what these movies would be like if they were played by actors/actresses who actually lived in Hawaii. Do famous Hollywood actors make a difference to how many views and money gets produced into the show/movie? How does pop culture make an impact on how cultural/geographical movies are portrayed?

The different types of media, especially in Hollywood movies, are one of the reasons why so many people are continuing to stereotype Hawai’i and its residents. Just because I live in Hawai’i, it doesn’t mean I am Hawaiian, nor does it mean that I know how to surf, live in a grass hut, and wear aloha print. Many of us unconsciously judge people based on where they’re from or what they look like.  Although some stereotypes are true, those characteristics are sometimes exaggerated and are made fun of. There are some people who seem like the stereotypical “Hawaiian”, but stereotypes are what makes us forget that we are all individuals with different personalities.

Learning Moments

One of the main things I learned in this class was about media literacy and its importance. Before taking this class, I never really thought the impact of having media literacy education, since I wasn’t taught too much about it in school. This topic was first introduced in week 2 and then further discussed in week 9. During week 2, we read an essay called “The Urgency of Visual Media Literacy in Our Post-9/11 world: Reading Images of Muslim Women in the Print News Media” by Diane Watt, which talked about the importance of combing intercultural education with media literacy. She explained that “media literacy [is] a key to negotiating our relationships with difference”. It was also interesting and revealing to see that there are many different programs and agencies that help people to become educated in media literacy. It’s especially assuring to know that it is being taught to kids so that they are aware of what they are seeing on T.V. and in other various media sources.

This course has also made me realize how or society today is revolved around media and technology. Along with the media, there are the advertisements and commercials that are constantly trying to sell us something and trying to tell us a message.  Many of them are manipulating us to buy a product, especially when it’s something we don’t absolutely need. Initially, whenever I saw a commercial or advertisement, I never took into consideration the meaning behind them and why they chose to design/make it a certain way. But this class has taught me how to analyze different types of media and become more aware of the “hidden messages”.

Works Cited

Chamberlain, Eugene Tyler. The Hawaiian Situation: The Invasion of Hawaii. n.d. Web. 14 May 2016. <;.

Suburban Stats, Inc. Current Population Demographics and Statistics for Hawaii by age, gender and race. n.d. Web. 8 May 2016. <;.

Sun, Amy. 3 Myths about Native Hawaiians You Ought to Know Before Visiting Paradise. 9 January 2015. Web. 8 May 2016. <;.

Tsai, Michael. Pdigin-holed. 15 February 2004. Web. 8 May 2016. <;.