Act of War tells the story of Hawaii’s overthrow by a league of private actors supported by the United States government. The first clips are perhaps the most powerful in the entire film; Hawaiian protesters march through the streets of Honolulu calling for sovereignty and responding to the tragic events of the past. They make concrete the historical abstraction that is an “overthrow”—the faces shown are the ones affected by the actions of greedy men more than a century previous, and their voices express the pain and anger of generations. It is an interesting choice to put these clips at the beginning, which puts the effects of the overthrow at the forefront of the viewer’s minds, in order to lend meaning to the historical explanations that follow.
The story of Hawaii’s history as part of the United States is a tragic one, especially so because it was achieved by relatively few people, and in the face of much anger, opposition, and resentment from both the Hawaiian people and the American citizenry. By tracing the lives and decisions of particular individuals and groups, such as Queen Liliuokalani and the Calvinist missionaries, the film achieves both concise explanations of the cultural and social forces that influenced their reactions, as well as their characters as human beings. The characteristics of Calvinism are important in understanding Hawaii’s colonization, though I wish more time had been given to an explanation of Hawaiian cultural values and practices prior to the arrival of Europeans. Outside of the crowd shots at the beginning, the film fails to convey the attitudes of Hawaiians towards the overthrow, as well as the effects, both positive and negative it had on Hawaiian society.