Growing up I never questioned how or why an island so far away became a state. The first question I had after watching the film was why has there not been a push for Hawaiian independence, at least another vote on statehood? I first watched Act Of War in a Hawaiian History class at HPU. In my history class, we deconstructed the same historical and ethical themes from the movie as we have in class this semester. Media can be a powerful tool to convey multiple messages and evoke emotion from the receiver. For instance with Act Of War, the opening still gives me chills when Haunani-Kay Trask gives her “We are not Americans” speech, here is rest of it not included in the film…..
What I would like to look at is the cinematography of the storytelling and how it conveyed those historical and ethical themes.
How to Manipulate Time
Within the first five minutes Act of War symbolically prepares the viewer for a time warp. As the viewer, we time-travel from a time filled with plenty of land and taro fields, to our current era of crowded city streets. The timeline for Act of War starts at from before the islands were discovered in 1778 up to the 100 year anniversary of Hawaii’s annexation in 1993. The timeline’s content is made up from video content from any other time than circa 1993.
As the story progresses past the main title, the historical documentary style comes out. The style I am referring to is how media content from that time period is used to tell the story the story. As the narrator talks about the characters the picture zooms in or out, or they jump-cut in on a detail in the picture. When they talk about someone they show a picture of the person and the camera is usually panning or zooming very slow. To watch this by itself would seem a little busy, but it is very slow to watch.
To make up for this they use jump-cuts back and forth between the narrator and the pictures. This is almost always a shot that encompasses the same basic look of the narrator. At the bottom of the screen, you should see shoulders. At the top of the screen, the head will leave about 1/9th of the screen empty. The last way time was manipulated in Act of War was with the use of present-day actors to illustrate the story. The actors did not speak with their own voices, instead, the film uses voice-over narration while the actors are presenting visually what the narrator is conveying through audio.
Symbolism to evoke emotion
If you have ever had a public speaking class, you are probably familiar with trigger words. Act of War uses trigger words like they use their cross-fades. Trigger words are in about every scene, some are just more painfully obvious than others. Trigger words can evoke a strong emotion from the listener, but it does not have to be with just words. When the story is at the part when they talk about the Navy and US military power you hear the sounds of American military band music. The reason the military has a band is not just for moral support of the troops. The same reason the military uses it is why the movie used it, as a trigger. Music has been used in war to pump-up troops to go into battle for centuries. The music is composed in a way to heighten emotions of excitement. Act of War uses it to escalate the feelings of imperilment of the Hawaiian people. Here is an article if you want to read more up on music in the art of warfare.
Act of War uses more than audio for triggers, they use visual triggers too. One of the obvious ways they do this is by showing close-ups of racist cartoons. It is relevant content, but the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. In those thousand words for that picture, I can’t think of any words that would evoke a positive message.
What I believe to be the most visually symbolic example is the cuts to the population data for that time in the story. I may be reading too much into this, but when I see burning flames and population numbers I interpret that as the Holocaust. The shot is used several times, each time a little closer to the flame, and each time the number of people is greatly reduced. If my interpretations were correct then the point of the visual is to allow the viewer to internalize and compare the atrocities committed against the Jewish people to that of the Hawaiians.
The act of negotiation between two parties involves on party asking too much and the other countering with an offer. The reality is that Hawaii’s abrupt deviation from statehood could set a course that would send us back to war with our neighbors, friends, and family. I believe with our current literacy rates and technology, for the first time a fair vote could be held on statehood. A vote is not enough, and it would definitely not be the end of the story for Hawaii. It could be a start, though. A start to a new story where people can live and respect one another without prejudice of the crimes of our fathers.