From Outer Space to Paradise? Remapping Hawai’i in "Lilo and Stitch"


  • Iris-Aya Laemmerhirt


Hawaii <Motiv>, Heterotopie, Paradies <Motiv>


Ever  since  the  European  discovery  of  the  Hawaiian  Islands  by  Captain James Cook in 1778, this island state has been shamelessly exploited economically and reimagined for a wide, mainly white, audience in the media. The  island  state  continues  to  occupy  a  unique  place  in  public  consciousness, evoking escapist fantasies of dazzling long,  sandy beaches, spectacular  sunsets,  swaying  palm  trees,  and  beautiful  hula dancers  as  well  as skilled  surfers  enjoying  perfect  waves.  Numerous  novels,  TV  series,  and movies  have  helped  to  foster  this  positive  image,  at  the  same  time  suppressing the dark side of colonial Hawaiian history in favor of a more convenient paradise image. Especially the American movie industry with films such as  Waikiki Wedding (1937),  Blue Hawaii(1961),  Paradise Hawaiian Style(1966) or more recently 50 First Dates(2004) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)  has  helped  to  create  Hawai’i  as  a  ‘fantasy-scape’  for  a larger audience. The majority of movies set on the island state imagine this place as a tropic paradise resort, mainly for wealthy white Americans, thus almost completely erasing the native population from the screen.
Disney’s animated movie  Lilo and Stitch(2002) can be read along the lines of those preceding movies representing the islands solely as an ideal holiday destination and multicultural paradise as well. Thus, it seems not surprising  that  in  2002  Disney  signed  a  $3.9  million marketing  contract with the Hawaiian Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), which markets  the  islands  under  the  control  of  the  Hawai’i  Tourism  Authority,  to promote Hawai’i as a family destination. However, on closer scrutiny, the movie indeed depicts trouble in paradise as it doesnot only depict Hawai’i as a heterotopic space where intergalactic immigration is possible but – on a more subtle level – criticizes American colonial  practices and the forced annexation  of  the  former  independent  kingdom,  thereby rendering  the island state still a highly contested space.