“And Outside Where Do We Begin?”: Indigenous Hawaiian Culture and the US Criminal System in Ciara Lacy’s “Out of State”


  • Fulvia Sarnelli




Out of State, Native Hawaiian incarceration, hyperghetto, Achille Mbembe’s ethics of the passerby


The recent debate on the politics of life has developed in different directions, from Waste theory (Bauman, 2004) to Necropolitics (Mbembe 2004, 2019) and Butler’s idea of precariousness (2004, 2009). Despite their relevant differences, such critical perspectives reflect on how power has appropriated a semantics of disposability, superfluousness, and death. This essay explores the intersections of the US prison system, the abjection of colored lives, and Hawaiian Indigenous cultural resurgence. My chosen text for this exploration is Ciara Lacy’s powerful documentary Out of State (2017). The film follows a group of Native Hawaiian inmates to a private, for-profit prison, dislocated thousands of miles away from their island home, deep in the desert of Arizona. In this unfamiliar, barren space, Native Hawaiian inmates find a community and rediscover their cultural identities by teaching one another native culture, language, and traditional dance. As two of the men complete their sentences, the film uses their particular journeys for a much more universal story on the difficulty of re-entering a society that casts subjects into a residual existence. Lacy’s documentary thus complicates the logic of a clear separation between the inside and outside of prison. Yet, the film turns the metaphor of being out into a space of self-awareness and recognition that can eventually spark change.


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