Recently I've volunteered at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and got to see one (yeah, just one) film, and it was this one.
"One Voice," directed by Lisette Marie Flanary, is a documentary about an annual choral contest in Kamehameha High School in Oahu, Hawai'i. The school has a very large emphasis in learning and living Hawai'an culture and has a preference towards admitting Hawai'an students. All four grade levels compete to be the best performers of mele, a type of Hawai'ian spiritual in four-part harmony and is about how beautiful Hawai'i is and having pride in being Hawai'ian. The documentary follows the 3rd quarter lives of the student conductors for each grade - after all, they're still students at school in addition to being conductors. There are three conductors per grade - one for girls, one for boys, and one for the coed choir. For Kamehameha, the "Song Contest" is the biggest deal since sliced bread, but the pressure on the student conductors is incredible. All of them want to win and be the representative (of sorts) of their class, so the amount of preparation they put into the songs is insane. One girl's song was about the island of Moloka'i, which also happened to be where her family was from, so she went back to really understand the song. Talk about commitment! The story was quite moving and emotional, especially with the last scene of all of the performances lead by the student conductors who the audience had grown attached to. However, the Song Contest wasn't the only thing that really drove the movie. The other side of the movie consists of a short background of the Kamehameha Schools, the Song Contest, and the history of mele, while educating the audience about what it means to be Hawai'ian.
This film was great for me to watch because I previously knew next to nothing about Hawaiian culture. I knew that there was immense pride in being Hawaiian, but you get that same pride in almost any other AAPI culture. However, this was one of the film's drawbacks. Not a lot of the movie was devoted to educating the audience about Hawaiian culture - most of it was devoted to the Song Contest (which is great, don't get me wrong). I just wish I had been given a little more background - remember how uneducated I am about Hawaiian, let alone Pacific Islander, cultures in general?
Seeing this movie pointed out to me that I haven't really been seeing any Pacific-Islander specific films, with the exception of South Pacific. I've been focusing a lot on just the East Asian experience and the more "traditional" Asian-American experience. I don't know much about Hawaiian culture or Pacific Islander culture at all, but I know plenty about East Asian and a little bit of South Asian culture. It's led me to wonder whether the Pacific Islander experience is something that needs it's own independent study or if I should start incorporating it into my blog/studies now. I mean, that's what I'm doing right now. But is it part of the Asian American experience? I've heard people say, "Yes, it absolutely is!" And it does fit, at least on legal documents and forms and things. But on the other hand, I've heard people say, "No, Pacific Islander culture and East Asian culture are extremely different, even under the umbrella of AAPI." Which is also true. So... where does it go? Should Pacific Islander be put in the same category as East Asian? Does South Asian fit in there too? Do I even have the right to question where the PI of AAPI "belong?"
I'm not really sure. But if there's one thing that I'm sure about, it's that this movie is great. And it's directed by a female Hawaiian director! Yay! Go see it!
One Voice website