The 100 star Zach McGowan has signed on to headline and produce NI’IHAU with shooting set to begin later this month. Shortly after the announcement though, the project began criticism for McGowan’s casting as the real life Ben Kanahele, a Hawaiian island leader, with many citing the news as another example of “white-washing.”
The true story is set during WWII when Shigenori Nishikaichi, an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot crash-landed on the eponymous Hawaiian after participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kanahele saves Nishikaichi before learning of his involvement in the attack and when the circumstances became apparent, Nishikaichi was apprehended but received assistance from locals. The incident led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066, which directly led to the mass internment of over 110,000 Japanese-American citizens. The order was officially rescinded in 1976 by President Ford.
The project was written and will be directed by Gabriel Robertson. McGowan will executive produce with Amber Entertainment’s Ileen Maisel and Affirmative Entertainment’s Affirmative Entertainment. 27 Ten Productions’ Ken Petrie will produce.
McGowan tweeted his excitement for the project but reactions were mixed. Diversity in Hollywood has been a big topic of conversation in the last few years, and recently it has been focused on the issue of white-washing. In the past, the excuse has been either they were following the source material (Marvel’s Iron Fist) or that they needed a big name in order to sell the film (Ghost in the Shell). Neither of these reasons will work with this story.
Kanahele is pictured on the left in the above picture. McGowan bears no resemblance to the real-life figure so Robertson is not staying true to the original source material. In terms of needing a “star” to draw an audience, McGowan is well-known but has never starred in a tentpole film. As of this posting, neither McGowan or Robertson has commented on the criticism, and while there is nothing to say that the final product with the duo won’t be a genuinely good film, it is disheartening that after so many conversations surrounding big budget films white-washing roles, now even a small period drama is falling into the same terrible trap.
Best known for his television work, McGowan has had notable roles on Agents of SHIELD, The 100, Black Sails, and Shameless. He will next be seen on the big screen in American Brawler and Death Race: Anarchy.