Raise a hand if you’ve read this before: A major Hollywood studio plans to turn the epic story of Kamehameha the Great into a major motion picture with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in the lead role.
The latest development in the long and tortuous effort to bring Hawaii’s most famous alii to the big screen broke on today when Johnson announced on Instagram that he would assume the lead role in Warner Bros./New Line Cinema’s upcoming film, “The King.”
KA LA HIKI OLA. Dawning of a new day with hope and promise. Humbled & grateful to begin this once in a lifetime journey. KING KAMEHAMEHA – the legendary King was the first to unite the warring Hawaiian islands — fulfilling the prophecy that surrounded his fabled life since birth and creating the powerful & spiritual 50th state as we know it today. Academy Award winning director, Robert Zemeckis (FORREST GUMP) will direct. Academy Award nominated writer, Randall Wallace (BRAVEHEART) will write. From the day I began my Hollywood career (2001), my dream was to bring this legacy to life. In Polynesian culture we have a belief, that something isn’t done when it’s ready… it’s done when it’s right. The time is right. The one who walks alone. #Culture #History #Mana #TheKing #KAMEHAMEHA
“KA LA HIKI OLA,” wrote Johnson in the post. “Dawning of a new day with hope and promise. Humbled & grateful to begin this once in a lifetime journey. KING KAMEHAMEHA – the legendary King was the first to unite the warring Hawaiian islands — fulfilling the prophecy that surrounded his fabled life since birth and creating the powerful & spiritual 50th state as we know it today.
“From the day I began my Hollywood career (2001), my dream was to bring this legacy to life,” Johnson wrote. “In Polynesian culture we have a belief, that something isn’t done when it’s ready… it’s done when it’s right. The time is right. The one who walks alone. #Culture #History #Mana #TheKing #KAMEHAMEHA.”
Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”) will direct the film, which will be based on a script by Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”).
The project was developed by Seven Bucks Production, a production company founded by Johnson and Dany Garcia, and sold at auction to Warner Bros. and New Line. Johnson previously has starred in New Line films “San Andreas,” “Rampage,” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Journey.”
The new film will be co-produced by Johnson, Garcia, Hiram Garcia (also of Seven Bucks), Beau Flynn of Flynn Picture Co, Wallace and Zemeckis.
“It’s a very early stage of development right now but we’re excited to hear the announcement today by the Rock and his team,” said Georja Skinner, chief officer of the Creative Industries Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “We’re a long way from having a script or a schedule for filming but we’re staying in touch and we hope to have updates shortly.”
Johnson, who lived in Hawaii for a year when he was a teenager and has relatives here, had been attached to one of two previous bids to bring Kamehameha to the screen in the early 2000s. That project, “Kamehameha,” was written by former Maui resident Greg Poirier (“Rosewood”) and picked up by Columbia Pictures but never produced.
At the time, Johnson’s reported casting as Kamehameha was met with consternation, particularly in Hawaii, by those who felt it was inappropriate for such a historical Hawaiian figure to be played by an actor who is not Hawaiian. (Johnson is half Samoan and half African-American.) Others objected to the film being written and produced by people who were not of Native Hawaiian ancestry (and not descendents of the Kamehameha line), the presumed exclusion of the Hawaiian language in dialogue, and likely Hollywood embellishments to the king’s story.
Social media responses to today’s announcement reflected a mix of enthusiasm, cautious optimism and a reignition of some of the same objections regarding the Rock’s involvement. Many also expressed a preference for part-Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa in the lead role.
For Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, author, historian and senior professor at the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, the new project repeats the fundamental problems of the previous film efforts.
“Kamehameha is a grand chief of Hawaii and not some Hollywood Disney character,” she said. “It is totally inappropriate to have a non-Hawaiian actor play him. There must be a hundred descendents of Kamehameha who could play the part.”
Further, Kameeleihiwa said, “If ever a film should be made (about Kamehameha), it should be written, in Hawaiian, by one of Kamehameha’s descendents. It’s their kuleana.”
Kameeleihiwa, who co-wrote the award-winning documentary “An Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation,” said she respects Johnson as an actor and suggested that he should instead portray the historic Samoan chief Malietoa Savea, from whom Johnson is descended.
Johnson’s casting in the film comes during a time of heightened sensitivity in Hollywood to matters of cultural appropriation, ethical representation and whitewashing. Actress Scarlett Johansson, for example, recently pulled out of the film “Rub & Tug” after she was criticized for taking the role of a transgender person. She previously had faced criticism for portraying a Japanese character in the film “Ghost in the Shell.”
Skinner said she understands that “The King” is “not a documentary but an entertainment project,” but said she hopes and expects people working on the film to “engage with cultural specialists” as part of their preparations for bringing the king’s story to a wide audience.”
She also encouraged local film lovers to pay attention to locally produced independent films that seek to tell authentic stories about Hawaii.
In a statement released late today, Johnson stated: “The response to our King Kamehameha announcement has been incredible worldwide. A true privilege and dream for me to bring King Kamehameha’s legacy to life on the silver screen. The cultural and historical significance of this role, I hold with the highest respect and reverence; and, I’m honored to share the epic story of our people and culture with the world. Imua!”