Last week, Deadline broke the story that writer/director Gabriel Robertson (EastEnders, Bucket, The Gift) was attached to write and direct a feature film based on the infamous so-called “Ni’ihau Incident”. Deadline further reported that actor Zach McGowan (Dracula Untold, Terminator: Salvation, Black Sails) — who is not Native Hawaiian — had been cast in the leading role of Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele, a historical figure and Ni’ihauian who was awarded a Purple Heart for his role in the incident.
News of McGowan’s casting triggered immediate backlash from Asian American and Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander activists, who accused the filmmakers of using “Polyface” to whitewash the character of Ben Kanahele. In addition, Asian Americans criticized early buzz surrounding the planned “Ni’ihau” film, which described the incident as a “catalyst” for Japanese American incarceration (Editor’s Note: see JACL’s Power of Words handbook).
In truth, the events of the Ni’ihau Incident was co-opted by hardline conservatives to provide a veil of legitimacy to obscure the racist and anti-Asian motives behind Japanese American incarceration. History has since confirmed that Executive Order 9066 — which led to the forcible removal of over a hundred thousand Japanese and Japanese American civilians — was not based in significant military intelligence showing that Japanese Americans were untrustworthy; rather, Japanese American incarceration emerged as the latest escalation in a decades-long pattern of legalized anti-Asian and anti-Japanese harassment and criminalization.
Online outcry against “Ni’ihau” was fervent, taking the shape of memes, Twitter threads, and long-form thinkpieces. As it turns out, the filmmakers behind the planned “Ni’ihau” film were listening; and, they weren’t very receptive to the criticism.
Three years ago, Ellen Pao — former junior partner of Silicon Valley venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — filed a lawsuit against her former employers, citing a pattern of bias against female employees; yesterday, lawyers in her suit against Kleiner completed their closing statements with a plea for greater efforts to address gender equality in the tech industry. Pao’s suit alleges that Pao was harassed, and eventually fired, from Kleiner for challenging a culture of sexual harassment within her former company.
Throughout the Pao trial, Pao has courageously endured the usual victim-blaming, character assassination and mudslinging used to dismiss, invalidate, and insubstantiate the experiences of women. She has been tone policed. She has been slut-shamed. She has been labelled a gold digger. She has been accused of being untalented, amateurish, and unprofessional. The message Kleiner’s lawyers are trying to communicate is clear: Ellen Pao is lone voice trying to capitalize off an imagined gender problem in Silicon Valley.
The problem for Silicon Valley is that Ellen Pao is not alone.
Episode 6 of Reappropriate: The Podcast is now live! This episode features a great conversation between myself and Cayden Mak (@Cayden) of 18MillionRising. We talk identity formation in an increasingly digital age, as well as digital tools as one of several tools in an activist toolbox. We briefly touch on the Stephen Salaita controversy in relation to the perils of when digital activism crosses over into the real-world.
Next episode: Please join me in two weeks’ time when I hope to have a conversation about the third rail in AAPI politics: interracial dating. Guests are still being scheduled, so episode time and link are TBA.
I recently remarked to a longtime Twitter friend that I feel we live in a magical time, and I always wonder if young movement folks in the past felt that way, too. My friend suggested that not every generation gets to feel that way but there are definitely moments that people live through when they know they are in a magical time. I feel confident saying we live in one such time, but there’s still a question of what we’re going to do with that magic.
The internet has played no small part in the moment we’re in. More than ever, young people are connected to each other, having conversations about the things that matter to us, from pop music to police violence. We’re realizing there are more of us than there are of them, and that’s an incredibly hopeful thing. We live in a time of rapid reinvention, and at a moment when the conversations we are having online—for better or worse—are catching the attention of the mainstream.
For me, the internet always filled the gap between the community where I live and the one I long for. Growing up, finding my peers in the suburban Michigan town where my mom bought a house after she and my dad divorced was a challenge. I didn’t lack for friends, but there were conversations I wanted that I just couldn’t have with them. I was itching to define my politics, which is something I ultimately found online.