Why a Hawaiian Aquaman makes sense

[Note from the editor: This review is by prospective staff writer Hex. Visit her blog!]

I’d like to start this article with a preemptive defense of Aquaman. Before you scroll down to leave a comment about how lame Aquaman is, I ask that you look at the following image.

Why a Hawaiian Aquaman makes sense

Now, on to the article.

Recently, it was announced Jason Momoa will be playing Aquaman in the upcoming Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I won’t go into the stupidity of racist responses to an ethnic minority portraying a typically Caucasian fictional character. That topic was eloquently laid to rest on this site by Solkir, and I have nothing new to add. What I want to address is why a Polynesian Aquaman makes perfect sense. (For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer specifically to Hawai’i, as that’s what I’m most familiar with, but a lot of what I’m about to say can be applied to other Polynesian or islander cultures).

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First, let’s look at Arthur Curry’s origin story. While his original origin was that of an air-breather who acquired his abilities by studying the ruins of a lost underwater city, it’s since been rewritten. Now it reads something like this: Aquaman is Arthur Curry, son of Tom Curry, marine life enthusiast (not to be confused with Tim Curry, the actor) and Atlanna. His powers come from his mother’s Atlantean blood. There’s nothing definitive about this backstory that indicates what race Arthur would or should be. His mother may be a descendant of ancient Greeks (which is where the myth of Atlantis comes from), but his father could be from anywhere and be of any ethnicity. So why does a Hawaiian Aquaman make sense when his origins can be ethnically ambiguous? Because of the rest of his story.

Why a Hawaiian Aquaman makes sense

Aquaman’s Atlantean physiology gives him the usual set of superhuman powers (strength, endurance, dexterity, etc.), as well as his most iconic power, which is to manipulate and influence sea life. Therefore, it would make sense if he culturally identifies with people who have a close connection to water. On islands, seafaring tends to be a major source of food, giving natives an intimate understanding of that world. In fact, in Feathered Gods and Fishhooks, Patrick Kirch states that Hawaiians had “sophisticated knowledge of the marine world, in many cases surpassing that of Western marine biologists.” If Tom was Hawaiian and felt this connection with his ancestry, he could share that wisdom and respect with his partner and child.

Recently, writers have made Aquaman’s character more self-aware, especially regarding his abilities. Instead of focusing on his powers, they focus on his leadership, his prowess as a warrior, and the difficulties he faces as a person of mixed backgrounds. These are also things that Hawaiians can relate to.

Aquaman is “the king of the seven seas”, and Hawai’i had a well respected monarchy that lasted until 1893 when it was overthrown. Aquaman is a skilled fighter in both hand to hand combat as well as with his trident, and Hawaiian warriors often utilized spears. Arthur doesn’t always feel as if he belongs because of his mixed background, and that’s something a lot of Hawaiians face today. For Hawaiians, it’s mostly because people don’t think their culture exists. They’re told that they’re American, as if 55 years of statehood can erase over a thousand years of cultural growth. Arthur is neither human, nor Atlantean. Hawaiians are neither American, nor non-American.

Even the public’s opinion of Atlantis mimics that of Hawai’i. People know stories, and they have ideas about what it must be like, but the actual reality is sometimes significantly skewed. In the DC Universe, Atlantis is not exactly The Little Mermaid. Atlantis is politically diverse, technologically advanced, and its people are more mammalian than marine. In the same way, there’s more to Hawai’i than luaus, leis, and hula dancing. The most famous Hawaiian singer (Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole) was a huge advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty, but people don’t tend to think of that when they hear “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. People don’t understand Atlantis, and that’s something any minority culture can relate to.

Of course, mainlanders think Aquaman is lame. In the comics, he’s a hero in their image, but he’s not their hero by design. Jason Momoa playing him will change Aquaman’s design by making him a hero in a more logical image, and for that I am grateful.

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  • Alexa

    Yeah totally fine with Mamoa as Aquaman, just not keen on whose running the show…

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      He was damn fun to watch in “Atlantis”.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Casting is not what is going to make or break these DC movies. Scrawny Wonder Woman in stripper boots is deeply annoying, but even that can’t make or break these films. They need decent scripts. The DC animated features are even better than the Marvel live action stuff, but whenever Hollywood proper gets its hands on DC properties with their condescending attitude towards the source matter we get bland shallow action eye candy crap.

    • Alexa

      I feel like even the DC animated movies are suffering cause the writing is terrible on most of them, especially Justice League: War.

      • Thomas Stockel

        Do you mean suffering lately? I think the last DC animated movies I saw were Doom and Batman, Year One. Once they went to Nu52 stories I gave up.

        • Alexa

          No Doom and Year One were good, not the best but good. Lately the animated movies have been AWFUL! Just watched the animated movie based on the Arkham Asylum game/Suicide Squad and it made me want to bang my head against a wall, it was so tacky and up its own ass. And again JL: War was just an absolute pain as well. It really shows how bad the Nu52 is just by the quality of these films. You were wise to stay away…

          • Dusty Ayres

            You might think them crap, but countless other readers don’t. And you’re welcome to stick around in Nostalgiaville reading older pre-New 52 books until your eyes bleed. Me, I wan to be here with the new books, mistakes and all.

          • Alexa

            I don’t mind change, I just don’t like it when its mostly badly written, then its just not worth my time T_T

          • Dusty Ayres

            Your loss. But don’t expect DC to stay in the past for you.

          • Alexa

            Its not like I lost anything of worth. And damn straight I’m gonna read comics in the past, considering most of them have way better writing. The Nu52 is and will always a pointless change, change brought on by an event (Flashpoint) that was mediocre at best, that ended up producing some good stuff, but mostly crap. And just shows that DC has no idea how to handle its properties and generally feels like they could care less about any character that isn’t named Batman. T_T

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            Alexa is right, you know?

            I mean, I bought some of the new 52 comics – and while I enjoy them, I have to point out, that I also can enjoy the Catwoman movie with Halle Berry, so, that doesn’t say very much about the actual QUALITY of the product.

            However I can understand, why people would not want to read the DCNU, because – honestly: while the drawings are awesome, the dialogue … meh – it leaves much to be desired, to say the least.

            Take nonsensical couplings into consideration – which I don’t have a problem with, because I’m a fanfic-author, who does things like that for hobby – and you have a not-that-great-new-universe.

            If you ask me – I think, the smarter solution from DC would’ve been “Devide and conquer”: tell stories of the NU52-continuity , but yet tell stories of the old continuity.
            So those, who like the old continuity can read this, those who like the new continuity can read that and I can pick and choose – do I read the new Birds of Prey or do I stay with the old ones? Do I read Gotham City Sirens or do I read the solo comic of Harley Quinn?

      • Gallen_Dugall

        I haven’t seen any of the new stuff so I must yield to your experience

        • Alexa

          Well its either starring Batman, or they make characters like Batman. Basic Nu52 bullshit, but in animated form. Its quite sad :/

  • MichaelANovelli

    I could see him as Aquaman, but a very specific Aquaman, the bad-ass version with a shape-shifting hook for a hand! I worry they may try to do him as classic Aquaman, which would be a mistake, in my opinion…

    • Thomas Stockel

      Save the hook for a sequel, ’cause Aquaman losing his hand and getting the badass upgrade deserves a story all it’s own.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Nah, Marvel’s too far ahead. DC’s gotta splurge, a little…

        • Thomas Stockel

          I think rushing things is a huge mistake, but then again this is the same studio that decided it’s okay for Pa Kent to tell his super powered son it’s okay to let a school bus full of kids to drown, so I guess I’m looking in the wrong place for good creative decisions.

          • Dusty Ayres

            He did that because he didn’t want his son to be noticed by the government and the military industrial complex, dufus; it all goes back to the Donnerverse Superman movies (heck, even back to the early Superman stories) about Jonathan and Martha being afraid that if somebody knew what his powers were, Clark would have been taken away and experimented on, treated as a freakish experiment, or worse. That’s why Daddy Kent was always urging caution, and he was right-look at the way General Swanwick and General Hardy regarded Superman at first before he convinced them that he’s on humanity’s side in the Battle of Smallville and the Battle of Metropolis.

            The concern’s also a part of the plot in the novel Superman: Earth One.

          • Thomas Stockel

            Dufus? I fail to see where I deserved that.

            The attached image sums up my feelings perfectly regarding how I feel about Snyder’s take on Pa Kent. And you bring up the Donnerverse but you fail to point out how at no point did Donnerverse Pa Kent suggest at any time that his son not save people at the expense of keeping his secret.

            It’s a terrible movie not only for that reason, but also for later when Clark lets his father die.

            You remember when “Superman” killed Zod and he screamed in grief? Why should he, when it’s obvious he has no regard for human life. Pa Kent pretty much told him when he was a child human life comes second to his secret, and then reinforced that when he told Clark to let him get tornadoed. Oh, but maybe Clark thinks Kryptonian life is more important. Frankly considering what a train wreck the movie is it wouldn’t surprise me.

            Snyder wasn’t the right guy to direct this movie, Nolan the wrong guy to produce it, and Goyer the wrong guy to write the screenplay. They don’t get what Superman is about. Superman is supposed to be about optimism, the counterpoint to Batman’s dark and gritty nature.

          • Jenny Mingus

            This. So very this. Of all the things that bothered me about Man of Steel, it’s Pa Kent the Sociopath that bothers me the most, even more so than the Breakneck Ending. Yeah, the Breakneck Ending was bad, but I can almost see where they were coming from with that. Unlike previous iterations, they didn’t provide Superman with a means of depowering Zod or anything he could use to drive him off of Earth and keep him off of Earth or anything like that. But Pa Kent the Sociopath? No, fuck no. It’s basic comic knowledge: while Superman gets his DNA and powers from his Kryptonian parents, it’s his Earth parents, Ma and Pa Kent, who gave him his moral code and his drive to do good in the world. So Pa Kent constantly berating his son for using his powers to help people while at the same time talking about how special his son is and that he was sent to Earth for a reason…yeah, with those kinds of mixed messages (that he shouldn’t help people and at the same time, he’s above people), Pa Kent is paving the way for his son to become a massive dictator.

          • Alexa

            I wouldn’t have minded the ending if the movie took the time to highlight that Superman was taught, by his Pa no less, that killing is not the be all end all solution. That scene should have been at the ending of a later film where Superman was at the end of solutions. In MoS the main solution for Supes is that punching and destruction are the only solutions. And I hate the reasoning given by Snyder that Supes would learn that killing is bad, after killing. That is the dumbest and laziest excuse to explain their dumb and lazy writing….

          • Jenny Mingus

            Agreed, Alexa. Given that this version of Superman was raised by a man who clearly had multiple personalities, I wasn’t too surprised that this version of Superman shows little if any regard for peoples’ lives (he doesn’t even bother to try to move this all-out battle away from a dense population center), but yeah, Snyder’s reasoning really sucks. Most people manage to learn that it’s wrong to kill people without, y’know, having killed someone.
            Again, I gave Snyder a big pass when it came to Watchmen for a few reasons. One, because I don’t particularly care about Watchmen the way I do about Superman, and two, because Snyder kind of had an impossible task with that film: adopting a story so closely tied to a specific medium and that also had a rabid fanbase that would leap down his throat if he made any changes…yeah I forgave him for a lot.

          • Alexa

            Personally I didn’t like Watchman, it wasn’t horrible and actually had some good aspects to it. But the thing about Snyder is he doesn’t know how to direct actors thus making the whole experience of watching any of his movies leaving me feel cold. And without his really good eye for cinematography and imagery in MoS, the movie just made feel like a endless, dark pit…

          • Wizkamridr

            I’m sure Snyder was crying all the way to the bank while angry fans burned their comics.
            I wasn’t expecting much from a Snyder film. And for the record, I haven’t been blown away by Marvel’s films.

          • Wizkamridr

            In regards to superman, I think he should protect all living things not just humans. Just my opinion.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Well, Thomas, if you wanna sell a superhero movie, you gotta *belch* pump the gas a little! Pedal to the *burp* metal, baby! ^_^

  • jjramsey

    Hey, if Samuel Jackson can be cast as Nick Fury, why not let Jason Momoa be cast as Aquaman?

    • Jonathan Campbell

      Well, admittedly, Samuel was cast as Nick Fury in the comics years before they cast him in the movies.

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/3a/UltimateFury.jpg/150px-UltimateFury.jpg

      But yeah I don’t have any problem with Momoa.

      Though…this article does surprise me a bit. I didn’t think ANYONE had a problem with Momoa, except maybe some people who were more worried about him not being blonde than him being from Hawaii.

      Not saying there wasn’t any backlash, but not on the level of the news about Black Johnny Storm or Black Captain America (really just Sam Wilson) or Female Thor.

      • Hex

        To be honest, I haven’t seen much backlash online. I did hear a fair amount of complaints in person (I work at a bookstore and previously a comic shop) about Aquaman being in the movie, getting his own movie, and (to a lesser extent) about his ethnicity. But you are correct. I think people don’t have strong enough about Aquaman to warrant a flame war, unlike, say, Johnny Storm.

  • Cameron Vale

    I’ve said it a million times, Aquaman is to Atlantis as Batman is to Gotham or Superman is to Metropolis. It’s really simple. Everyone trying to solve the problem of his lameness were just wrestling with their own ignorance the whole time.

  • Richard Eriksson Hjelm

    You had me at jason momoa loved him in stargate

  • I just thought a Hawaiian Aquaman made sense because Hawaii was an island nation, and as such has a lot of culture and mythology centred around the sea.

    • Hex

      Oh, it absolutely does but I didn’t the whole article to be “zomg! Hawai’i is awesome sauce” with a dash of Aquaman in the mix. My original draft had references to huna, at sea burials, and the symbolism tied to different marine life. But it all felt tangential and off-balanced so I took it out.