The first motion picture shown in Hawaii was in 1897. The following year would see the first movies filmed in the islands — short, under-a-minute scenes of street life and local kids diving for coins. But it wasn’t until 1913 when Hollywood would first sink its toes into Hawaii’s sands with two single-reel films, Hawaiian Love and The Shark God. Since then, film and television have become increasingly important ways to showcase the beauty, culture and homegrown talent of Hawaii to people around the world.
The 2010s were a banner decade for Hawaii’s acting talent. From independent films to big-budget blockbusters, Hawaii’s presence was larger than ever before. While many are worthy of mention, these three stood apart as KHON2’s Actors of the Decade.
Jacob Batalon is one of the most unlikely success stories of the decade. After graduating from Damien Memorial School in 2014, Batalon headed east for a two-year program at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts — the first acting experience for the former music student at KCC. After a performance in a short film, he found himself in a major role in one of the biggest movies of 2017, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. He was the scene-stealing best friend of Spider-Man, becoming a fan-favorite for his genuine charm and true-to-life wit. After cameos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game — the fifth and first biggest movies of all time respectively, no big deal — he returned in 2019 in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Despite earning his keep in the most successful film franchise of all time, the 23-year-old Batalon is only getting started.
The voice that lodged itself into the minds of millions, Kamehameha Schools alum Auli’i Cravalho made her acting debut in the titular role of Disney’s animated musical Moana. It was one of the biggest movies of 2016, grossing over $400 million worldwide while earning enough critical acclaim to warrant its own Wikipedia page for awards and accolades. Cravalho took home individual awards from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, the Annie Awards, and the Teen Choice Awards. Cravalho didn’t stop there, though. She reprised her role in the short film Moana: Gone Fishing and as a cameo in Ralph Breaks the Internet, but the talented teen proved that the big screen wasn’t big enough. She lent her voice to the video game Disney Magic Kingdoms, appeared on several TV shows — including a memorable lead performance as Ariel in a live TV special of The Little Mermaid — and even performed in an off-Broadway stage show. For this 19-year-old singer and actress, it is safe to say — or sing — no one knows, how far she’ll go.
Nanakuli’s own Jason Momoa was no stranger to the silver screen, having starred in Baywatch Hawaii, North Shore, and Stargate Atlantis throughout the 2000s, but he became a household name this decade. Starring as the iconic Conan in 2011’s Conan the Barbarian and then Khal Drogo in the most talked-about show of the decade, Game of Thrones, Momoa was inescapable — not that anyone really wanted to escape one of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” Momoa took another leap forward as the lead role in 2018’s Aquaman, the fifth-highest grossing movie of the year. Although Momoa continued to reach greater international audiences in roles in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, Momoa endeared himself to countless local fans by being an outspoken advocate of the TMT protests on Mauna Kea, proving that no matter where his stardom takes him, he’ll never forget where he came from.