By Alison De La Cruz

Director of Performing Arts & Community Engagement


Here is the final installation of our two-part interview with filmmaker Tad Nakamura about his newest documentary MELE MURALS and its L.A. premiere, co-presented by JACCC and Visual Communications at the Aratani Theatre on August 5, 2016

Alison De La Cruz: We have spent some time talking about the ways your film Mele Murals connected you to a Native Hawaiian cultural context. What I love about the film is that by following the artists Estria (pictured left) and Prime (pictured below) we can see how hip-hop speaks to them and through them. Can you talk about any discoveries you made in the interactions between Hawaiian and hip-hop cultures during this project?  

Tad Nakamura: The most interesting interaction is that the hip-hop element of the film gets people into the theatre, so then it’s like now that we have your attention – let’s go deeper. I’m not sure how many people will even consider this film hip-hop. I’m curious to find out what will resonate with folks. As we screen around the country, I’m starting to notice that the film definitely resonates with an older generation of hip-hop heads and writers. I’m not sure that the film has that “f*** you” culture or vibe that younger writers tend to have.

AD: I know that some of your previous films are also hip-hop influenced. Can you tell me more about that?

TN: For me, as someone who grew up as part of the hip-hop generation, it’s almost something that I take for granted. That goes to show how much of an impact hip-hop has had on me. It’s up to debate on how much power hip-hop has on this current generation – but our generation was/is definitely impacted. Hip-hop was my entry to arts and the creative world – even as a filmmaker’s son – creating art wouldn’t have been as appealing if I hadn’t been exposed to hip-hop.

AD: I think that our generation has lots to say about how hip-hop has changed since we were kids.

TN: As much as hip-hop has been commercialized, there is still a lot of potential in its foundation (liberation, resistance and youth culture) - those are always going to be there. Even as washed out as it is in mainstream hip-hop, these Hawaiian kids spray-painting a wall (even though it’s old school) is such a specific type of empowerment that is strictly hip-hop. It’s that taste of liberation not only against systems and states but it’s against your parents and your teachers. It’s a youth movement. Hip-hop still has those fundamental elements.

AD: We talked earlier about the ways that you as a Japanese American are navigating your place within a Native Hawaiian context. When I think about conversations that you and I have had about this, it links up to conversations we as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can have about our relationships to hip-hop culture. Are we appropriating? Innovating? Participating in hip-hop culture and its roots?  

TN: For me, my models of American activism and empowerment are rooted in African American and Black culture.  Liberation movements have been happening all over the world for ages but the methods of organizing and cultural work that personally shaped me come from the black power movement. If some people consider that appropriation – then I have no problem fessing up to that and I am open to getting checked. I am definitely interested in discovering how to make all of my hip hop-informed work more participation than appropriation. Just like Jazz – dues need to be paid to black culture and black music – it still inspires me and I chose to be a part of it and contribute.

One of the themes of this film is new ways to teach the old. I think it offers all audiences ways to consider: What aspects of our cultures or ourselves do we need to keep? What aspects are we willing to change? Is our struggle with the form or the purpose?

 It’s not one or the other - the goal is to find new ways to carry on the traditional. I think it’s up to the people WITHIN their different cultures to figure out what, if anything, needs to evolve.


Join us for the screening and post-show moderated discussion with Tad and other artists and creatives involved in the making of Mele Murals at the Aratani Theatre on Friday, August 5, 2016 at 8 pm.

For tickets click here.