After titles inform filmviewers that the Kingdom of Hawaiʽi was overthrown in 1893, the context is on a new law of the Republic of Hawaiʽi that required all persons with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) to be rounded up and sent to a “leper colony” on the island of Molokaʽi, where they would be quarantined. Although not mentioned in the titles, the colony was established by the Kingdom in 1866 at two locations on the island, Kalawao and Kalaupapa, for those with the disease, which was brought to the Islands along with many other diseases by White sailors who went on land during the 1830s, when their trading ships docked at ports in Hawaiʽi. Although some of those with the disease went voluntarily to the colony, others remained and coped within their ancestral lands. The 1894 law mandating all those with leprosy to live in the settlement was enforced by the Hawaiian Rifles, the law enforcement agency of the White-dominated Republic. As Native Hawaiians were forcibly seized, their wills were activated, and their lands taken over by the new government, which sold the properties to White developers.
The Wind and the Reckoning focuses on the struggle of a family and friends living on an isolated part of the north side of Kaua’i, an area that today is so remote that access involves a boat trip from the rest of the island. The story brings to the screen the historic account of Pi’ilani (played by Lindsay Marie Anuhea Watson), her husband Ko’olau (Jason Scott Lee), their young son Kalei (Kahiau Perreira), as well as a few Native Hawaiians living nearby. The film begins and ends with Piʽilani reciting poetry to accompany amazing cinematography of Kauaʽi with a majestic film score and, more importantly, serves as a window into Native Hawaiian culture and language.
One day, Kalei returns home from surfing with a White friend of about the same age. But the White friend is frightened on seeing leprosy on Koʽolau’s hand and runs away. The conclusion is drawn that soon the Hawaiian Rifles will be on the prowl for Koʽolau and Kalei, both of whom have leprosy, though their mother Piʽilani is free of the disease. The family then prepares to relocate to Kalalau, a more remote part of the island (though filming is elsewhere). Koʽolau is a paniolo for a cattle ranch run by Eben Sinclair (Patrick Gilbert), an elderly White man, who encourages them to escape persecution. However, in the wee hours of the following night, armed bounty officers (seeking $10 per person captured) invade their home, seeking to detain father and son but not the mother, who must strip before them. A scuffle ensues, and the family the following morning flees to a lava tube cave alongside the coastline, soon joined by a small group of Native Hawaiians, one of whom later indicates that medicine for leprosy is on a nearby ship from India. Koʽolau indicates that his family will proceed to the ship only after others go and return. But the information is bogus, and they are soon stopped by a unit of the Hawaiian Rifles, who shoots the group, including Patch (Sisa Grey), the Native Hawaiian woman who was leading them.
At that point, a disagreement appears within the White contingent. Marshall Hitchcock (Jonathan Schaech), second in command, objects to killing the Native Hawaiians, since the mission was to detain them. Captain McCabe (Henry Ian Cusick), however, says that he is free to order his squad any way he wants. Thereafter, they procced to track down any more Native Hawaiians who remain in the area, with loaded guns. Although father, mother, and son prepare to respond to any gunfire directed at them, they are outnumbered, and McCabe in the ensuing crossfire is shot dead, whereupon Hitchcock calls an end to the mission. Piʽilani, who buries her husband and son after their death at the hands of the Hawaiian Rifles, lives to write about the events in her autobiography.
A lesson on Native Hawaiian culture is provided early in the film, when son Kalei admits that he hates Haoles (White people). He is corrected by his father, who advises him to avoid hatred, an emotion that will destroy him. Yet another lesson is ohana—that the mother remains united with her family and refuses to be separated, placing priority on family as the basic unit of Native Hawaiian society that is sacrosanct. Being disunited would be divorce, an option unacceptable within Native Hawaiian culture.
Directed by David L. Cunningham, titles at the end inform that funds are sought for a monument in Kalaupapa National Historical Park (established in 1980), for all among 8,000 persons who died in the colony without being properly honored with graves.
The Political Film Society has nominated The Wind and the Reckoning for best film exposé, best film on human rights, and best film about Hawaiʽi for 2023. MH