White Lens on Brown Skin

The Sexualization of the Polynesian in American Film


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About the Book

From the earliest accounts of contact with Europeans, Polynesians have been perceived as sensual and sexual beings. By the late 1800s, publications, lectures and stage plays about the Pacific became popular across Europe, and often contained exotic and erotic components. This book details the fusion of truth and fiction in the representation of Pacific Islanders, focusing on the sexualization of Polynesians in American cinema and other forms of mass communications and commercial entertainment.
With messaging almost subliminal to American audiences, the Hollywood media machine produced hundreds of tropical film titles with images of revealing grass skirts, scanty sarongs, female toplessness and glistening exposed male pectorals. This critical filmography demonstrates how the concept of “sex sells,” especially when applied on a large scale, shaped American social views on Polynesian people and their culture. Chapters document this phenomenon and an annotated filmography of sexualized tropes and several appendices conclude the book, including a glossary of Polynesian terms and a film index.

About the Author(s)

Matthew B. Locey worked for many years in the Hawaii film industry as a member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America. He is also a founding member and president of the South Seas Cinema Society. Having lived in Hawaii for the majority of his life, he currently resides in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Bibliographic Details

Matthew B. Locey
Foreword by Ed Rampell

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 298
Bibliographic Info: 15 photos, glossary, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8918-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4744-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Foreword by Ed Rampell 1
Preface 7
Introduction: A Brief History of Polynesian Representation by the Other 11
Part I—Race, Romance,and Representation 15
1. South Seas Cinema: Definition and Facts 16
2. Arriving in Eden: The Canoe Greeting Trope 21
3. Peeking Through the Ferns: The Lagoon Swim Scene 39
4. Climax of the Feast: The Sensual Dance Cliché 50
5. Solidifying the Conquest: Native First Kiss and Beyond 60
6. Sexual Appropriation: White Women in Grass Skirts 82
7. Other World War II Conquests: Prostitution in the Pacific 96
8. The Greetings Continue: Romance in the Tourist Trade 104
9. Breaking the Cycle: How to Change the Course 114
Part II—Annotated Filmography of Polynesian Sexualized Tropes and Sexual Relationships 123
Conclusion: Possible New American Enlightenment 245
Polynesian Vocabulary of Interest 253
Chapter Notes 257
Bibliography 265
Index 271

Book Reviews & Awards

“A powerful study… A very interesting and recommended reading for anybody interested in film history, Americans Studies and Polynesian culture.”—popcultureshelf.com