Back in 1978 when Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey represented Hawai’i in the Miss America pageant, contestants didn’t need favorite causes or “platforms” like they do today. But deep in her heart burned the desire to share the story of the Hawaiian people with the world.
Those long-sewn seeds of an idea came to fruition in Lindsey’s 1995 film, Then There Were None.
The 26-minute documentary was Lindsey’s first project on the other side of the camera. The O’ahu-born actress appeared on TV’s “China Beach” and “Byrds of Paradise” before trying her hand at writing, directing and producing.
Through archival film footage, photographs, period and contemporary music, and Lindsey’s own narrative, the Then There Were None traces how the native Hawaiian population and culture have been continually challenged by foreign influences.
More than half a million native Hawaiians were living in the Islands at the time of European contact in 1778. Within 50 years, that population was cut in half as Western diseases claimed thousands of lives. A litany of events followed: American missionaries preached unfamiliar ideas and customs; sugarcane and pineapple plantations absorbed individual farmlands; waves of immigrant workers arrived, making Hawaiians a minority in their own land; and World War II brought a lasting military presence.
University of Hawaii sociologists estimate that the extinction of full-blooded Hawaiians in the islands could come within the next 45 years.
“I wanted to tell our story in a concise form for people outside Hawai’i,” explains Lindsey. “They know Hawai’i as a tourist destination, but they don’t know our history.” On the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty, Lindsey says it was important that the film strike a balance. “I wanted to raise my voice in a proactive and positive way,” she says. “There is a great deal of pain (regarding native rights issues), and I didn’t want to diminish it or put a sunny face on it.”
But neither did she want to belabor the subject. “I think that much of the anger expressed in the sovereignty movement comes from a feeling of helplessness,” says Lindsey. “Open discussion, like that triggered by seeing the film, is the first step in healing.”
“This was the most exhilarating experience of my life,” says Lindsey. “The group of people I worked with, the archival footage, doing a project about Hawai’i and my ancestors—it was a tremendous personal voyage.”