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Face Off – How could you be so ignorant about Hawaiʻi?

(UPDATE: Sections marked with a strikethrough were done because of new information, included at the end of the article.)

Face Off, the reality competition program of creature design and makeup is now winding down its All-Stars season. On April 11, 2017, they delved into a new subject material: Hawaiʻian mythology. The show remarked on how the culture was oft-ignored by audiences until recently with movies like Moana. This contest should have been the perfect opportunity to provide representation and exposure to mainland audiences.

Instead, Face Off fell victim to that very ignorance with its competition and artist designs.

courtesy of Syfy

The first failure lay on the production staff themselves, who failed to provide accurate information to the designers. Each contestant was given a choice of five tikis (about the only accurate cultural aspects on the show) representing a different Hawaiʻian god. The problem was, each tiki had a “God of…” explanation that was oversimplified at best, and outright inaccurate in one case.

They described Lono as the “God of Agriculture,” which is partially true. Lono does represent the falling rains that allow for fertile crops and peaceful living, but he’s also associated with clouds, storms, and health. Similarly, Kanaloa was just called “God of the Ocean,” another generalization; he’s also the opposite and compatriot to Kāne, known for his sorcery and antagonism.

Speaking of Kāne, this was the worst one as they called him “God of Earth and Stone,” which has nothing to do with the actual god. Kāne is the creator of everything, similar to the Native American’s Great Spirit or even Judaism’s Jehovah. He’s a sky god, associated with the sun and dawn, and the patron of the chiefs of Hawaiʻi. Other than creating the islands upon which all live, he is not associated with earth or stone.

This misinformation led to a second failure, this time at the hands of the artists. Not even one of them questioned what they were told and researched their chosen god. They came up with their designs through their own Caucasian, mainland views, creating what mostly amounted to Western fantasy creatures with some Polynesian symbols.

Logan’s version of Lono was a “Green Man,” a plant creature made of earth and vegetation. There was no imagery of clouds, storms, or rain that evoked the majesty of Lono. George’s Kanaloa was even more ignorant, as he decided just to pick a random sea animal to incorporate into the design; he did this even though Kanaloa has an animal representation, the squid! If he so much as Googled the deity, he’d have known this. Pele? She’s supposed to be terrifying and beautiful, yet Emily created a “lava person” with little attractive to her.

Kāne was the worst of all, as Tyler just rolled with the “God of Earth and Stone” nonsense. There was nothing royal about his creation. This make-up was a mishmash of earth elemental aspects that made him look like Swamp Thing, rather than a divine creator and ancestor to all Hawaiʻians. This makeup and design were probably the most offensive and ignorant, devoid of any proper representation.

Even Kū, the one god that was accurate in its description as “God of War,” missed the mark. While he was impressive and incorporated many Polynesian designs, they ignored the famous red and yellow mahiole (feather helmets) associated with him. The result looked more like a Mesoamerican Camazotz than anything Hawaiʻian.

Of all television series, you would think one that explores fantasy, science-fiction, and horror would know better about cultural accuracy and sensitivity. If you’re going to represent a living, breathing culture and faith, you should certainly try to do so with education and respect. Instead, they just took some random names, gave them inaccurate descriptions, and then had a bunch of haoles make up whatever came through their uninformed heads. Could you imagine if they’d treated representations of Jesus, Buddha, or Brahmā with the same lack of care?

This last episode of Face Off points out that, even in geek culture, ignorance and appropriation not only exist but are reinforced by geek media. As geeks endlessly debate whitewashing in films or blackface in cosplay, the creature design and makeup effects industry mindlessly takes the “exotic” and presents it without accuracy or sensitivity. With such ignorance considered normal, is it any wonder many who read this article will roll their eyes at how “picky” we’re being?

Face Off… we love your show. Your artists are amazing, your contests are fun, and you’ve created a hit. That doesn’t make you infallible, though, and you will be called out when you mess up.

Well, you messed up. Please make sure the next time you use an indigenous culture as your challenge material, both you and your artists learn about what they’re representing.

Mahalo nui loa.

UPDATE: After much consideration, I would like to apologize for any accusations or harsh language directed at the artists. From several sources, it is now clear that contestants do not have access to general research sources, including the Internet. They only can use whatever the production staff deigns to provide for that particular challenge. Artists cannot be held responsible for misinformation or lack of source material. This information was confirmed by the contestants themselves on Twitter:

I have notated the article above, particularly striking out the parts that blamed the lack of research on the artists. Any strong language regarding the final designs has only been left as evidence of my emotions and conclusions at the time; they do not reflect my respect for the artists, their talent, or the quality of their work overall. I’d like to thank all of those who provided clarity on what contestants go through, and this should hopefully inform audiences for future critiques.

Mahalo and maikaʻi pōmaikaʻi to those still in the contest!

About Brook H. (254 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... Brook has degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology and has majored in everything from computers to business. He's worked a variety of jobs, including theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is HoH and a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate, a lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

9 Comments on Face Off – How could you be so ignorant about Hawaiʻi?

  1. Reblogged this on holdtvids and commented:


  2. Just for the record it is not fair to place any blame on the artists. When contestants are on the show they have NO ACCESS to the outside world. Movies, TV, and Internet are cut off as well as anything visual, comics, magazines, etc. Everything has to come from their mind’s library.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who was a contestant on the show not long ago in a previous season. I think this review is very frustrating And shows a lack of understanding . The contestants don’t have access to TV or internet or movies,they confiscate your phone and wallet for the entire time you’re there. we aren’t even allowed to talk directly to family members, watch sports or read newspapers , or even draw unless it’s during the 30 minute concept stage that’s at the beginning of the challenge. Blaming the artists for not researching it further is stupid, . They all researched as much as they were allowed to which is just what the show provides them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your response. Could you please explain the images audiences see of artists performing research during the competition? This is not a counterargument, but an honest question. From our perspectives it looks like they have tablets and books that have been used to show everything from human anatomy to animal species, including specific information for the challenge at hand. That makes most assume that, at least during the competition phases, they have access to the Internet.

      If they do not have access to anything other than what the show provides them for those specific challenges, that’s even more disconcerting. If Face Off is going to request representations of a culture’s deities, you’d think they would give adequate information on that culture and its faith.


      • The tablets are only accessible when they are on camera. During that time they only have about 4 -5 hours to get as much done as possible on the first day. The tablets have no access to internet either. The only pictures that are always in those tablets are of the models with all their measurements. The reference photos and written information provided in those tablets is actually pretty minimal and only uploaded according to the Specifc challenges and then deleted from the tablets as soon as the challenge is over. The written information provided is usually only between a paragraph to a page long provided by production.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on sargestamps and commented:

    DO NOT read if you haven’t seen this week’s episode!!


  5. The tablets have super limited info and references that are pre-selected, only enough for context. This is NOWHERE near having full internet access. And the amount of time for brainstorming is 30 minutes, that means not just looking at the scant amount of info provided, but time for drawing, dreaming up a story and drafting makeup plans. Also, contestants get 19-21 hrs to make everything… not long at all when you’re sculpting, molding, fabricating and then applying and painting.

    At best, you’re looking at a rough approximation of what the real process is. Most of the artists have way more time IRL to do true research and breathe creative life into their work.

    It is a show with writers and tons of behind the scenes people, a storyline is created and they will cut and re-record scenes for coverage and options, including changes in judge feedback at times. I’m not surprised with all the things that never make the edit that audiences think we have freedom and everything is as it appears. The artists are on lockdown, creating the tension, performance, and environment that intensify competition.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. To be fair and thorough…

    The show is not about cultural education. The show is about artists creating artistic intepretations of concepts or characters. By definition, that has to be somewhat broad. If they give the artist too many requirements, it leaves very little room for the artist to make their own stylistic and conceptual choices, and they’re left being judged just on how well they technically executed a concept that was dictated to them.

    There are some better choices the producers could have made about what information to provide, but I think railroading the contestants into colored feather headdresses or squids would make it too restrictive for some gods and give the contestants who chose more abstract gods an inherent advantage.


  7. Reblogged this on Musings on the World and commented:

    This is a little outdated now, but I think the message is pretty important. Indigenous people’s cultures and faiths should be treated with the same respect as anyone’s. Artistic interpretation is appreciated, but it shouldn’t be done with ignorance.


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