INTERVIEW: Finding ‘Ohana Christina Strain and Jude Weng

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We sat down with Christina Strain (screenwriter) & Jude Weng (director) to discuss their new movie Finding ‘Ohana, now streaming on Netflix. They talk about how Netflix was happy to cast the film with Hawaiian actors because representation matters.

Watch the full interview below and read some of the highlights below.

Meghan Cooper: What is it like writing a comic versus writing a feature screenplay?

Christina Strain: Oh, I mean, there are a lot of differences. It’s interesting because with comics, you’re thinking about the still frames, like how do you best tell a story through still images and like key moments because you really get like one action and one emotion per panel, but then when you’re writing a screenplay, you’re thinking about it in fluid motion, you’re thinking about like, you know, what can you get in what the characters are actually doing? Um, there’s, there’s similar, but different also comics are a lot more condensed. Like there it’s one of the most economical means of storytelling visually that you can, you can do. And it’s, it’s very tricky. It’s a lot harder than people think both are hard.


Related: INTERVIEW: Finding ‘Ohana Kea Peahu & Owen Vaccaro

INTERVIEW: Finding ‘Ohana Alex Aiono & Lindsay Watson


What inspired you to make Finding ‘Ohana?

Christina Strain: The thing that inspired me to write this was very much Goonies. I grew up loving Goonies and Indiana Jones and like Ke Kwan was a huge part of that. I really wanted to write a Goonies in Hawaii. That’s about family. It’s about culture. And that’s about, seeing faces that like a younger me could have identified with. Asian American, Pacific Islander faces. I wanted a movie full of Datas, that character was amazing in Goonies. So I just wanted to write a movie full of him.

Jude Weng: I will say that personally, a few years ago I took a DNA test, and I was raised Chinese, Chinese American, and I was very surprised to find out that, Polynesian showed up in my DNA results. And all of a sudden I kind of went on this personal journey.

What does it mean to have heritage, or to have this in my DNA, but I wasn’t raised to be Polynesian. I wasn’t raised culturally to experience being Polynesian. And so, what does that mean? Amazingly enough, Finding ‘Ohana fell into my lap, and that’s really sort of, for me, the subtext and what the story is really about. Here are two kids Pili and Ioane, Hawaiian diaspora raised in Brooklyn, and here they are returning to Hawaii, not having been really raised in the culture. What does it mean to them? And the whole movie is about their journey, journey and discovery and connection to their culture and heritage. And for me, I hope what viewers take away is at the end of the day; it’s really never too late to find out who you are and to connect to that.

Meghan Cooper: I’d love to hear more about the casting of the newcomer Kea, you know, Alex and Lindsay.

Jude Weng: First of all, when we started the casting, the script, I mean, all of us knew that it’s going to be challenging to find Hawaiian American leads. Like we already knew it was going to be challenging, but we were very dedicated to doing everything we could do, like to scour the islands and to find new talent and lots of kudos to Netflix actually, who had the courage to allow us to cast newcomers.

And they, they were committed because I had that the script had been sent out to other studios. And the feedback that I had received from them was, and I was working in television at the time. So I remember thinking like, this is not a priority for me, but I’m curious to see what people are saying because the feedback I was getting was they were interested in hiring me to write other scripts. And so I finally asked a studio a exact one time. I was just like, if you were to make this, what would you have to do? And they were like, well, we don’t know how to cast this movie. We don’t have any actors that we could cast for these leads. And I just remember having a moment where I was like, this thing may never get made and you know what, I’m not going to whitewash it. So, so kudos to Netflix because Netflix guaranteed me before. Um, I sold it to them that they would commit to finding the right actors and actresses for it.

And I just remember having a moment where I was like, this thing may never get made and you know what, I’m not going to whitewash it.

Christina Strain

Christina Strain: And they were committed because I had that the script had sent out to other studios and the feedback that I had received from them was, and I was working in television at the time. So I remember thinking like, this is not a priority for me, but I’m curious to see what people are saying because the feedback I was getting they were interested in hiring me to write other scripts. And so I finally asked a studio an exec one time. I was just like, ‘if you were to make this, what would you have to do?’ And they were like, ‘well, we don’t know how to cast this movie. We don’t have any actors that we could cast for these leads.’ And I just remember having a moment where I was like, this thing may never get made and you know what, I’m not going to whitewash it. So, kudos to Netflix because Netflix guaranteed me before I sold it to them that they would commit to finding the right actors and actresses for it.

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Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Buy me a coffee

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