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