Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Princess Ka’iulani in Cambridge again!

A photo of Princess Ka'iulani and Mr. Davies
taken in Boston, Massachusetts 1893

Some historical facts:

Upon hearing of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Princess Ka’iulani left England for the United States. They landed at New York City. On March 4, 1893, the day before Grover Cleveland’s inauguration as President, the seventeen year old Princess Ka’iulani and her guardian Mr. Theo Davies headed to Boston to visit his son, Clive, a student at MIT. Clive met them at the train station in Boston, and they checked into the Hotel Brunswick. The Davies treated the Princess to a ride in a Russian sleigh, her first such ride. It was rumored that she would attend Trinity on Sunday, so instead she went to St. Paul’s Church with the Davies and worshipped in peace, whilst Trinity was crowded with rubberneckers hoping for a glimpse of royalty. She visited MIT, and Wellesley College where another rumor had started that she would matriculate. Most important was the reception held for her in Boston, attended by Hawaiian friends, politicians and the press. Again, the newspapers described her lady-like demeanor and beautiful clothing. Some of the MIT students attended the party with Clive Davies, and were all entranced by the young Princess. On Wednesday she boarded a train for Washington, DC with Mr. Davies, hoping to meet with President Cleveland.

And a movie review:

And so, just by luck, one of the only two places in Massachusetts to see the new movie “Princess Ka’iulani” was at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts this week. This theater is just a block or two from MIT. We went to the Saturday night screening. There were about twenty people in attendance- a very poor attendance rate for a movie that has been getting poor reviews in the local and national press. Several native Hawaiians were sitting behind us, probably MIT students.

The problem with movies is that they are never true to the book, whether or not it was a fiction book like Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice, or a non-fiction story from the history books, like the Titanic or the Princess Ka’iulani. As such, it is almost unfair to rant about any changes to the story, or liberties with historical fact. Movies are art, not exact reproductions of fact.

However, even though this movie has generated great interest in the public about the circumstances surrounding Hawaii’s annexation, it does not excuse the fact that history has been played with too liberally. It is not unknown in movies to introduce a romance where none existed, or to twist the dates around, or to create tension to carry the story along, but in this movie there were some glaring examples of inaccuracy. The most terrible injustice was to create a hero out of Sanford Dole for the climactic ending of the movie! Because of this, I feel that some sort of disclaimer should accompany the opening credits, like “this is a work of fiction”! In fact, I feel it should be mandatory, since it has upset so many Hawaiians and supporters of the Hawaiian monarchy.

And so, I will not list all the historical facts misrepresented in this movie, there has already been plenty of that in the press. It was a lovely costume drama, beautifully filmed and acted. It was filmed on location in England and Hawaii, using the actual Iolani Palace and Washington Place settings. Q’oriana Kilcher played a very refined, subdued Princess Ka’iulani, just as she did in the acclaimed film “A New World” when she portrayed Pocahontas. The truly gifted actress and scene stealer in the entire “Princess Ka’iulani” film IMHO was Leo Anderson Akana who played a wonderfully true to life Queen Lili’uokalani. Enough to make me wish for a Queen Lili’uokalani movie, but then again, I would probably be disappointed by the artistic license of any producer, so let’s leave Auntie Lydia’s story for the history books.

By the way, none of Ka’iulani’s trip to Boston was in the film, nor any mention of the Dominis family. In fact, Governor J. O. Dominis was not shown or mentioned in the entire film. That is OK by me, since the story was about Hawaii and Ka’iulani, and not about Lili’uokalani or her extended family. I was happy to see Ka’iulani call her by the name “Auntie Lydia”, since that was how my grandfather and my great grandmother also called her.


For more information:

Please see my other blog posts on Princess Ka’iulani from earlier this month, October 2009 and March 2010.

Princess Ka’iulani, released May 14, 2009 by Matador Pictures, but premiered as “Barbarian Princess” in November 2008 in Honolulu at a film festival.

http://www.fsakamoto.com/naomi/kaiulani.html some historical information about Princess Ka’iulani and her trip to visit the White House in 1893.

Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People, by Sharon Linnea, 1999 (where this copy of the photo of Ka’iulani and Theo Davies taken in Boston was found)

http://www.thekaiulaniproject.com/ a website dedicated to celebrating the life of Princess Ka’iulani


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Heather,
    According to the biography department at UH, Liliu and Dole remained friends after annexation. They differed politically but he had a great love for Hawaii, adopted and raised a native daughter. Truth is stranger than fiction and the film tries to dig deeper than 20th century misconceptions. There were some great scenes written about the reception with the MIT students that were sadly cut before shooting.

  2. Thank you Marc, for your comments. We did like your movie very much, and you made us cry at the end. My MIT husband grew up in Puerto Rico, unfamiliar with the Hawaii story, and he said this story reminded him very much of the American annexation of Puerto Rico. We hope you are still working on the movie about Cuba, it was a rumor a while back...

  3. Nice post and review Heather. I think of this movie as your "baby" as you've waited a long time to see it.

  4. @Heather Rojo: How did you get the middle name Wilkinson? I have been running into surnames that were familiar at Punahou in the Seventies and Eighties, as I have been researching the annexation period.

    And surprise! I have had a renewed interest in Kaiulani because I have found a tin-type photo of her that I believe was in the Atkinson family. It probably hasn't ever been seen outside their family. As others debate the historical treatment of Clive Davies and Sanford Dole, I have been trying to find out all I can about Zoe Atkinson, whom I believe may have tutored Kaiulani before she left for England (or so it appears in the found photo). In a famous photo of Kaiulani with her father, I can also place Alatau Atkinson (who had just had a fight with Governor Cleghorn over anti-Kalakauan publications), his son Jack (future acting Governor of Oahu) just hired by Theo Davies, and third eldest daughter Maisie Atkinson. And in another famous photo of Liliuokalani and John Dominis' son Aimoku, I claim Governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft, and his wife Nellie, are on the right, and the date is 1901, not 1910s as claimed. I can't seem to find anyone in Honolulu who cares, but perhaps all of the people who would be interested have already exhausted themselves in the creation of the movie.

    Very happy to finally see the movie this week, and happy they did such a good job. It's a strong production that will be seen by many over the next few years.

    1. Wilkinson is my maiden name. You can click on wilkinson in the right hand column of keywords to pull up my posts about this lineage. My connection to Hawaii isn't with those ancestors, but with the Emerson's, Dominises and Holts.

    2. Hi Ronald,
      I am writing a biography of Zoe's grandparents, Thomas and Lucy Atkinson. Please contact me for further information. nicholas dot fielding at btinternet dot com. I would also be interested in seeing the pictures you mention.