There used to be a time when pineapple wasn’t securely brought to us by Dole. A time when Hawaii was a sovereign nation, with a beautiful palace and an even more beautiful royal family in control of the throne. As the 19th century grew to a close, however, American businessmen began to see the financial potential of the annexation of Hawaii. One of those businessmen, Sanford B. Dole, will always be known — in addition to his delicious pineapple — as the man who brought down a great nation.
Little known off the island is that during the demise of sovereign Hawaii there lived the beautiful Princess Ka’iulani, heir to the Hawaiian throne and daughter of a Scottish businessman. Ka’iulani fought American interests and sought to salvage her culture and royal privilege. As we all know, Ka’iulani didn’t win her fight.
Q’orianka Kilcher, known from her breakout role as Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s The New World, once again portrays a young and beautiful princess caught in the middle of a doomed battle between land rights and imperialism.
The film opens with the princess at her palace, taking part in a ceremony bringing electricity to the island. The beautiful Lolani Palace, home of the original Hawaiian royals, was used during the filming of Princess Ka’iulani to bring an authenticity to this historical biopic. (Incidentally, it also got electricity before the white house.)
While authentic, the film evokes little compassion as we idly sit by and watch the passionate princess scream for a lost nation. It is through Kilcher’s performance we cry for the people of Hawaii. The film itself seems to waft by sedately, like a palm tree standing above the great battle between the indigenous Hawaiians and the white businessmen eyeing Hawaii with little more than dollar signs in their eyes.
The indigenous people were slaughtered, and Ka’iulani lost her royal title even while securing the backing of President Grover Cleveland. Once called the barbarian princess, Ka’iulani seemed to drift to the back pages of history. If it were not for this historic and somewhat dry film, almost no one would know of the great tale of the lost royals of the nation of Hawaii. (Rated PG)