Viola Davis, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen Adapt Hawaiian Women’s Saga for ABC

By Sameer Rao Aug 23, 2018

Most screen depictions of Hawai‘i minimize the Native Hawaiian, Asian, Pacific Islander and Hapa (multiracial) people who collectively make up most of its population. Television writer, author and former Time magazine correspondent Lisa Takeuchi Cullen ("The Ordained") aims to change that with "‘Ohana," the hourlong series that she recently landed at ABC.

The Hollywood Reporter posted yesterday (August 22) that the series draws from "Shark Dialogues," Kiana Davenport‘s 1995 novel that highlights the ways ancestral cultures, United States colonialism and other historical forces have influenced contemporary Hawai‘i. Both the book and the series examine these themes through the stories of four contemporary Hapa women who are linked by their grandmother’s death and the plantation she leaves behind.

Cullen will write the adaptation, while Viola Davis ("Fences") and Julius Tennon ("Custody") produce through their JuVee Productions. Cullen told THR that the series will open new frontiers for stories about Hawai‘i.

"So many Hawai‘i-set stories have been told from the White point of view," she said. "This is a story we’re passionate about telling from the point of view of Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, people of Asian descent and people of Hapa heritage."

Cullen, who is Japanese-American, adds that she mentioned the anticipated profitability of "Crazy Rich Asians," one of few Hollywood projects with an Asian director and cast, when pitching the series. She ultimately sold the project on August 15—the same day the film hit theaters. 

"The landscape has shifted dramatically in the last 12 months, and maybe in the last week," she said. She also told THR that she recently entertained another idea from a producer who said, "I would be very open to [the protagonist] being cast with an Asian-American actor, because I think ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is going to be the biggest movie this year, and there’s going to be a huge demand."

"‘Ohana is Hawaiian for family, and that is a big part of who we are and what we want JuVee to support: embracing cultures and points of view from all over the world and showing that we all can relate and connect to each other," Davis and Tennon said in a joint statement to the publication.