As my family described the beauty, wonder, and horrific history of the Kalaupapa Peninsula on Moloka’i, Hawaii, I could feel the land calling to me, begging me to tell part of its story. It didn’t matter that I had not seen the place for myself––simply hearing the tales of the land that once was home to thousands of exiles attracted me to the peninsula.
Last semester, I wrote a feature screenplay that takes place in 1868 Kalawao (the eastern coast of the Kalaupapa Peninsula) two years after King Kamehameha V signed the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.” I chose this time period because the colony was still adjusting; the residents had no laws, as they had already been declared dead by Hawaii in being sent to Kalaupapa, and no one on the islands was exactly certain as to what was going on there. But most importantly, I chose 1868 because it’s a time that isn’t well documented compared to the rest of the history of the island. This is likely because there were fewer residents who not yet had access to the few rights that would come in the years to follow. And Father Damien would not arrive for 5 years.
All of this meant that I had more liberty to write a compelling story without worrying about contradicting historical facts. I read what little I could find on that specific year, then outlined my historical fiction, making sure it could coexist with the facts without placing too much pressure on myself to include every little detail, especially if it would hinder the flow of the story.
The reason I didn’t travel to Kalaupapa with my family last year was because I had to return to Arizona, which was where I lived at the time, to continue training for 2020 Open Water Olympic Trials. I had also tried to go years before, but no one under the age of 16 is allowed to visit.
Last week, on my annual trip to Hawaii, I finally was able to travel to Kalaupapa. It was even better than the Kalaupapa I had spent so much time in in my imagination as I built my story. I plan on going back over the summer to make a short version of the film and may even go back as a volunteer in the spring.
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