Story by Lynn Cook
Photos by Monte Costa
On a January day in 2007, two young Hawaiian men, Na‘alehu Anthony and Keoni Lee, sat in the New Eagle Café in Honolulu’s Chinatown, brainstorming a new concept: news reported with a Hawaiian perspective. “What ifs” flew. What if news were investigated and reported in the other official state language, Hawaiian? What if all the news were bilingual, subtitled in English? What if the programming could both inform and entertain? What if all this could be available on demand twenty-four hours a day? And at the top of the list: What if it could be broadcast on a major cable network station?
Coffee cups empty, they said aloha and returned to their day jobs. Anthony was 32 and working on his own, producing videos full time. At 29 Lee was selling mortgages and tending bar but longing to use his business background to support Hawaiian cultural initiatives. Lee couldn’t get their conversation out of his mind, he says. He drew up a budget. Meanwhile Anthony was making mental notes on the stories he thought should be told.
If anyone could realize the dream, it was Lee and Anthony. Both were Kamehameha Schools grads with crisp MBA degrees from the University of Hawai‘i’s Shidler College of Business. They were fluent in Hawaiian and passionate about Hawaiian values. Anthony had been making films capturing oral histories and documenting the travels of the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule‘a, on which he’d earned the rank of captain. His moving documentary, Papa Mau, had won the fledgling filmmaker a long list of awards. Lee’s expertise in management and sales along with his understanding of information technology was the perfect complement to Anthony’s creative energy.
The two saw many important but disconnected things happening in the Native Hawaiian community. Their plan was to string those moments together in a lei of information: Hawaiian land-use concerns, battles over water rights, political and educational issues—all could be covered alongside Hawaiian music, dance and the arts. While they had faith in their vision, they would have scoffed at anyone who said that within three years ‘Oiwi TV would create one thousand Hawaiian language news packages and forty-five half-hour shows. And if you’d told them they’d be embedded with international news crews covering the inauguration of President Obama, they would have called you lolo.