Delia Malia Caparoso Konzett. Hollywood's Hawaii: Race, Nation, and War. War Culture Series. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017. 264 pp. $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8135-8743-1; $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8135-8744-8.
Reviewed by Samantha Cabusora (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Published on H-War (September, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
In Hollywood’s Hawaii: Race, Nation and War, Delia Malia Caparoso Konzett considers the role cinematic depictions of Hawaii and the South Pacific played in conceptions of American identity, empire, and military operations. Konzett—an associate professor of English, cinema, and women’s studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham—analyzes films from the Second World War to the present to form an argument centered on the ways war and society are interconnected. Structurally, the work moves chronologically from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present in four separate sections that each focus on one of the major moments Konzett outlines in the introduction.
According to Konzett, cinema played a pivotal role in four major moments in American history: the colonization of Hawaii; increased militarization in the 1930s; Hawaii’s strategic role in the Second World War; and the postwar status of Hawaii as a center of leisure and entertainment, and as a major military position. Konzett envisions cinema as a space where directors were free to create a vision of American race and politics. In Konzett’s view, cinema served as a space where the politics of nationalism and identity could be imagined and adapted for a myriad of purposes. Military and civilian filmmakers alike created films not only to support the war effort but also to reaffirm and even challenge contemporary social values regarding nationhood and identity.
The first chapter examines the role of cinema and film in the expansion of American empire into the Pacific. Perhaps the most prominent moment in American national memory is the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. Hawaii, therefore, serves as the subject of the majority of films Konzett considers and analyzes. Konzett explores the origins of the savage native trope and its representation in film. Conversely, Konzett also explains the foundations of the representation of Pacific islands as idyllic, lush paradises populated by women wearing flowers in their hair and dancing on the shore.
The second chapter, “World War II Hawaii: Orientalism and the American Century,” considers the ways film adapted to reflect national anxieties, concerns, and military objectives immediately before and during the Second World War. Civilian and military filmmakers alike used the medium to portray a specific narrative regarding the war effort. Konzett describes films created through both avenues that portrayed the war effort as a necessary and heroic undertaking and draws attention toward innovations in cinematography that readers may not have previously considered, such as the use of military aerial footage in film or the ramifications of using color.
The third chapter focuses on Hawaii in the postwar era, and the development of the military-industrial complex. Konzett analyzes the rise in popularity of color film and the corresponding effects on cinematic portrayals of Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific. Popular postwar musicals such as South Pacific and The King and I represent a return to the portrayal of the Pacific as a paradise and not a war-torn region. The end of the war represented another moment in the continuous creation of an ever-changing national identity. A consequence of American growth and expansion was the contact with and subsequent incorporation of various ethnicities into conceptions of American nationhood and belonging. Konzett’s analysis of how films approached multiethnic representation in films throughout various periods in American cinematic history comprise some of the most compelling parts of Hollywood’s Hawaii. For example, Konzett focuses on how such films as Go for Broke! (1951) attempted to explain the existence of the all-Japanese 442nd Infantry despite the racial anxieties of the Second World War and the conflict of the Pacific theater.
In the conclusion, Konzett identifies a “new cultural amnesia” manifested in modern film and television. She asks us to consider the ways Hawaii is depicted in the twenty-first century in the final pages of Hollywood’s Hawaii. Such movies as 50 First Dates (2004) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) portray Hawaii as an idyllic paradise with no traces of the influence of American expansion or war. Even Aloha (2015), whose characters are affiliated with the military, conveniently reconciles the conflict between American military presence and native Hawaiians who call for liberation under the leadership of King Kanahele (who makes a cameo in the film). Hollywood’s Hawaii identifies and explores the tension between portraying the Pacific as a space focused on leisure or military action and concludes by showing readers the ways in which this tension continues to manifest itself today.
The geographical space within which Konzett chooses to center her argument, Hawaii (and more broadly, the area that made up the larger Pacific theater of the Second World War), serves as a cross section of American society. Despite the physical distance between Hawaii and the continental United States, it is clear that a study of the region reveals plenty about attitudes toward race, identity, and gender within the greater American society. Scholars interested in the medium of film as an art form and source unique in its ability to present visual cultural commentary will enjoy the work as a whole. Scholars who may be more interested in the history that ties these films together in a greater narrative may find weaknesses in Konzett’s argument; for example, Konzett’s discussion of the military-industrial complex is rightfully concerned with ancillary matters, such as prostitution and leisure, but does not provide as much space for discussions of the industry side of the matter. Konzett deftly makes a case for the corollary effects of a military presence in Hawaii during both peace and wartime but does not necessarily discuss the vast industry of weaponry and military capability present in Hawaii from the twentieth century to the present.
Konzett uses a wide range of primary and secondary sources that reflect the historiographies of film, the Pacific, and war and society. The most prevalent sources, understandably, are the films that Konzett analyzes in detail. Each section combines the analysis of relevant films within the context of contemporary American political, military, and social issues. Overall, this work is a useful example of the many ways war and society intersect. Konzett makes a case for the ways in which film is not only a cultural phenomenon and artistic medium but also a means of envisioning and legitimizing other aspects of American society and politics. Through the analytical lens of cinema and film, Konzett considers the implications of American military involvement on questions of race, nationhood, and gender. This intersectional approach allows for a more robust discussion of the role cinema played in American history.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Samantha Cabusora. Review of Konzett, Delia Malia Caparoso, Hollywood's Hawaii: Race, Nation, and War.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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