Monday, September 28, 2009

Ka'iulani's Birthday - 'Barbarian Princess' to Premiere in Honolulu - Harsh Title? Yes

The controversial film about Princess Ka'iulani, shot in part at 'Iolani Palace, is going to be showcased Oct. 16 at the Hawaii International Film Festival.
I am surprised, but yes, after much debate, producers decided that it will be called "Barbarian Princess" in stark contrast to who she was. Many of us have been under the impression that a new title was in the works after the protests in April of last year. Because of much confusion, please let me be clear: this is a different film script from "Ka'iulani - The Island Rose" - a different production company altogether. Read about our Ka'iulani Project and her upcoming Birthday Festival - Lahaina Royal Ho'ike.
I can't comment on their script, as I haven't read it. However, I do believe that their point in using the word 'barbarian', is to illustrate just how wrong the American newspapers were back in 1893. The fact that Ka'iulani was referred to as a barbarian in newspapers (which she was), confirms the fact that the US was receiving incorrect information about both Queen Liliuokalani and Princess Ka'iulani. It was humiliating for Ka'iulani then, and it's agonizing for us today, to hear the word 'barbarian' in association with this beautiful soul. The point is, Ka'iulani was the antithesis of a barbarian - a "flower of civilization" with an education of the highest order - that is the point the film makers are trying to make.
Many people in Hawaii, however, are concerned that the ironic title will be too easily misunderstood, and that the world won't 'get it'.


  1. Aloha kakou -

    The title "Barbarian Princess" is specifically derived from an article by a journalist writing for the San Francisco Examiner (according to Kristin Zambucka) in 1897, who began an evaluation of Ka'iulani with "A Barbarian Princess? Not a bit of it.
    Not even a semi-hemi-demi barbarian. Rather the very flower...of civilization...charming, fascinating, individual". Etc. The journalist was reacting to press generated by the Provisional Government/Republic of Hawai'i/pro-annexation mouthpieces in the American papers prior to Ka'iulani's visits. Ka'iulani's presence debunked all the racist stereotypes and demeaning rumors circulated by enemies of Hawaiian independence...that Hawai'i's royals were ignorant "children" who couldn't rule themselves. The producers of the film purport to be doing the same thing by referencing this phrase - a very unwise and insensitive move, as the supposed intent of the title will be all-too-easily misunderstood by the general population of today's film-goers. Seems more likely a somewhat cynical desire to generate controversy/publicity for the film is at the root of the return to this inflammatory title. Having read the two heavily cut versions of the script (not the original, which horrified those in the Hawaiian culture/history community who DID read it, since the first script included a sex scene and other inappropriate content for a film supposedly meant to honor Ka'iulani's life)...I see nothing of enough substance to validate use of such a problematical title. The public concern voiced repeatedly by Kanaka Maoli and their supporters and ill feelings generated by this project really make one wonder...if it were what it should be, people like Jon Osorio wouldn't be speaking out against it.

    I do think, whatever the title for this film,
    the Princess herself did NOT want her name on it!

    The bottom line is, a documentary about Ka'iulani (without trumped up or over-emphasized "romances") needs to be made by the Hawai'i cultural community.

  2. Thank you for your comment. You're right, a documentary about Ka'iulani's experience through this period of history would be a good addition to the information out there already. When researching for "Ka'iulani, The Island Rose" there was very little existing material, print or video that dealt with this period in history, when Ka'iulani faced these untruths and proved the press had been ill informed. It is the main reason that The Ka'iulani Project exists. There are highly knowledgeable members of the Hawaiian cultural community involved now, and we invite all who wish to be involved.

  3. There will always be a place in my heart for Ka'iulani. Learning all I could about Ka'iulani while growing up made me feel even closer to her. The title is truly an offense. They should remove "barbarian" or cancel the project altogether as it shows a total disrespect for a young lady who fought for her people.

  4. We have been contacted by a Scottish documentary film maker to assist in some information about Ka'iulani.

  5. Oh, I cannot wait to hear/see what they have. Thank you for all you do!