How is Hawai’i Portrayed in Popular Culture?


Do you surf? When I was younger, this was one of the most common questions that people would ask me if they have not visited Hawai’i yet. Other questions that I have been asked are “Do you surf?” or “Can you speak pidgin?” Popular culture has put a picture in people’s heads that Hawai’i is “paradise”, but it is over exaggerated.

50 First Dates:

The 50 First Dates is a movie that was first released on February 13, 2004. The three main stars in this movie were Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, and Rob Schneider. Adam Sandler played as a person from Hawai’i named Henry Roth that falls in love with a girl named Lucy that was played by Drew Barrymore. In the beginning of the movie, there is a scene when a whole bunch of women talking about this amazing time they had in Hawai’i “Paradise” with this guy named Henry. At the end, they all said he had these crazy reasons on why he could not see them anymore. Later in the movie, Henry finds Lucy and finds out that she has been in a car accident and has short-term memory loss. His goal is to make her fall for him everyday.

In this movie, there are a couple of details that I have noticed while watching. There were only four main locations that they used that had buildings in them: The diner, sea life park, Lucy’s house and the hospital. Most of the other scenes showed open roads with not that much civilization around it. I found this to be interesting because Hawaii is not like this at all. There is limited space on an island, this means that you are going to see more crowded places with buildings because they do not have many places to build. The director could get the effect that he or she was secluded by using angles who wouldn’t show much of the island. Furthermore, during the driving scenes, the characters drove on dirt roads. All though there are dirt roads in Hawaii, they are used to go from place to place. Dirt roads are usually for driveways to go to people’s houses. Secondly, I feel like the director and wardrobe artist used the Aloha print T-shirts to help the audience to identify who was a local in the movie. Interesting enough, this is not a typical practice locals do. Unless it is for a special occasion. More so, you would see tourist using aloha T-shirts. Completing this works sheets makes me think that popular movie like 50 first dates is what influences tourist to wear aloha T- shirts daily.   

In an article called, “Pidgin-Holed”, by Michael Tsai, he talks about how the 50 First Dates is misleading about Hawai’i and how this is happens to often in the media. One of the misleading details in this movie is that there is no traffic when they go their aerial shots of the island. According to the U.S News & World Report, Hawaii was ranked in the top 10 in 2015 for cities that have the worst traffic in America. The limited space on the island also causes them to not have enough roads to ease traffic.

Blue Crush:

Blue crush is a movie that was first shown in 2002 that takes place in Hawai’i. The main star of this movie is Kate Bosworth, who plays as the character Anne Marie Chadwick. This movie is about Kate solving her issues in life with her friends, so she can compete in a big wave competition. Throughout the movie, she finds a man that she likes, and he also helps her to solve some of her problems.

One of the things that I noticed in this movie is that I felt like they were trying to portray that everyone in Hawaii surfed or is into surfing. There are many local people who do not know how to surf. It is a sport in Hawai’i, and only some enjoy it and are able to do it. Another thing that I noticed in the film is that the characters that played as locals in this movie had a local slang or broken English (Pidgin). Even though there are a lot of people who talk in this slang with their family, we were taught at our schools how to speak regular English.  

In the Pidgin-holed, Michael Tsai says, ““Blue Crush,” which was based on a journalist’s work, stereotyped local male surfers as territorial bullies.” I agree with Michael Tsai that I felt like the movie was trying to show not just “local male surfers” but just Hawaiian males that they feel like no one else but locals should be at the beach surfing. For example, there was a scene in the movie where Anne was teaching Matt, a pro bowl football player in the movie, how to surf. When the locals found out that she was bringing this “outsider” to the beach, the movie had the locals get mad and end up punching Matt in the face. There is a stereotype that locals in Hawaii do not having tourist in their island, but the truth is that the tourist is what helps Hawaii’s economy going. If Hawaii chases away their tourist, it is going to be hard for the city to be financially stable.

Lilo & Stitch:

Lilo & Stitch (2002) is about young girl (Lilo) who adopts a pet (Stitch). In actually, Stitch is actually an alien that crashed landed on earth. During the movie, Lilo tries to teach Stitch on how to be a pet. Surely there is some issues when she is trying to do this because Stitch is not an ordinary pet, which makes it harder for him to adapt to the new world. The purpose of this movie is to show that a family can overcome anything. Throughout the movie they both learn important life lessons that would ultimately help them to become family (Ohana). The audience for this movie was for children.

One of things I noticed in this movie is that a lot of the characters used a Aloha T-shirt. Although Lilo technically didn’t use a T-shirt, she used a hawaiian dressed instead. In Hawaii we consider both of those as the same for it to be considered an Aloha T-shirt.  Usually, this is not an common type of clothing that locals like to wear daily. This is something locals use for 1st birthday parties or weddings. One thing you will notice if you do visit Hawai’i is that tourist actually are the ones wearing the Aloha T-shirts and that is how people know if they are not from Hawai’i. I feel like because of popular culture movies like Lilo & Stitch that people get the perspective that they should be using a Aloha T-shirt while visiting.

Throughout the movie, there are other things that the director was hinting at that the movie was taking place in Hawai’i. One of these things were when Lilo went to Hula class. Hula is dance that was in originated in Hawaii that helps tell a story though dancing. Usually, there will be certain dances to certain songs. Another part in the movie was showing Lilo and her family surfing. This is another indication that the director was using this setting to show that they were in Hawai’i. Going back to the very first question of this paper “Do you surf?”, this what I get asked the most by people when they find out I am from Hawai’i. Popular Culture has an image of Hawai’i that constantly represents how it is there.


All three movies demonstrate the way that Hawai’i is viewed in popular culture and it is not all true. Hawai’i is not all paradise like most people think it is, there is a lot traffic, most people do not surf, and mostly tourist use Aloha T-shirts. In all reality, I feel like popular culture portrays Hawai’i a certain way because the state wants people to visit Hawai’i. A lot of Hawai’i’s income comes from people visiting the state. This is why pop culture makes Hawai’i seem like paradise.


One of the major learning curves for me was during week 4 learning how to analyze primary sources. Since my project had something to deal with watching a film, this week help me prepare to understand how to find what was the purpose of the movie, what is interesting about the movie, the different types of patterns in the movie and how to explain the things I noticed to help me get my point across about how Hawai’i is portrayed in popular culture.


Clare eriko.jpg Clare Eriko | 11.22.14 12:55am@ClareEriko SHARE Twitter Pinterest Tumblr Email. “The Stich In My Side: Renavigating Racial Identity Through Lilo & Stitch.” Ravishly. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

“Pidgin-holed | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii’s Newspaper.” Pidgin-holed | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii’s Newspaper. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Rachel, Dicker. “These 10 Cities Have the Worst Traffic in America.” U.S News & World Report. N.p., 15 Mar. 2016. Web.


3 thoughts on “How is Hawai’i Portrayed in Popular Culture?

  1. It’s interesting to think about pop culture’s representation of Hawai’i in relation to tourism. Your last sentence about the media portraying the state as a paradise to draw people in is insightful. It almost seems like these stereotypes are necessary for Hawai’i to sustain its image and economy, even though they are inauthentic and offensive towards locals. I’m curious to see a movie or read a book about Hawai’i from a more genuine perspective that isn’t targeted towards potential tourists.

  2. This is a great post! After reading your post completely, I sat back and tried to picture Hawaii based on what I have seen on TV/movies. I have never been there so these are all I have to go off of. Based on what I have seen in pop culture, Hawaii is lots of people surfing, laid back music somehow magically playing all the time, tourists everywhere, and a very stereotyped indigenous people. I have a few friends who have lived in Hawaii and they have expressed similar annoyances to me about the traffic and how expensive it is to live there. I love learning about different cultures in an accurate light and I am positive Hawaii has a beautiful one. I know very little about Hawaiian traditions and history, but I would love to see them more accurately portrayed in social media.

  3. Hi, you have a great post here! I never really thought about that Hawaii is portrayed as a paradise in order to get people to visit, but it does make sense now after reading your post. I’ve never seen Blue Crush, but I really like 50 first dates and Lilo & Stitch because they both make me happy overtime I watch them, and I guess that’s also part of the reason why people think of Hawaii as a paradise. I’ve been to Hawaii once when I was 8 and I’m gonna lie that it’s the best vacation I’ve had. I don’t know about living there, but visiting there was definitely an awesome experience for me. And ever since that, if I saw a movie or a show about Hawaii on TV when channel surfing, I would stay at that channel and watch it. My brother lives in Hawaii right now and he always complains about how expensive it is to live there, but he still seems to enjoy the lifestyle there. Also, unlike the stereotype, my brother doesn’t surf in Hawaii either.

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