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