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Use of Styrofoam Statues Offends Easter Islanders

Media: They point to an upcoming 'Laverne & Shirley' show, saying it demeans their culture.

April 12, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Why do Hollywood knuckleheads keep calling Easter Island's famous stone statues "tiki heads"?

That question had representatives of the remote Pacific outpost scratching their heads Thursday as they protested what they say is the latest Tinseltown tiki production--an upcoming "Laverne & Shirley" television special.

The prime-time one-hour show "Entertainment Tonight Presents: Laverne & Shirley Together Again" will air on ABC on May 7.

Four 18-foot Styrofoam replicas of the Easter Island statues--called moais by natives--were used as backdrops during the taping of the show. And that's offensive to the island's 4,000 residents, members of the Rapa-Nui Chilean Assn.'s California chapter said.

"We'd like to think this is the result of ignorance and stupidity," Easter Island native Miguel Angel Morales said as he and two others stood vigil with protest signs outside Paramount Studios, where the show was produced.

"This is an invasion of native culture by Paramount Pictures. Shame on them. When they make movies about exotic locations they don't care about the culture."

Morales, 49, a researcher for the state of California who lives in Riverside, said his 200-member group and the mayor of Easter Island, Pedro Paoa, are demanding that Paramount and other film studios "cease immediately to use moais--incorrectly named 'tiki heads' by Hollywood studios at large"--in movies, TV shows and commercials.

He said protests are also being lodged with the United Nations over the trampling of Easter Island's cultural and religious heritage by filmmakers.

Morales alleged that actor-producer Kevin Costner commissioned the fake Easter Island statues for his 1994 movie "Rapa Nui." He also complained that Costner tried to hire female Easter Islanders to appear topless in the film for $36 per scene.

Afterward, according to Morales, the statue replicas were turned over to a Hollywood prop shop for rental use.

They later appeared in a triple-X movie, "Making Love Hawaiian Style," he said.

Of the recruiting of extras, Morales asked: "What would Kevin Costner say if someone went to his door and asked his wife to pose topless?"

Costner could not be reached for comment Thursday. But film critic Roger Ebert, while panning "Rapa Nui," took special note in a 1994 review of the "dozens, if not hundreds of wonderful bare breasts" in the film.

A spokesman for Entertainment Tonight declined to comment on the protest but noted that the "Laverne & Shirley" show is still being edited and it is not certain the tiki head skit will be included. Stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams likewise could not be reached for comment.

But the protest was supported by one expert on the Easter Island statues. Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a UCLA archeologist who has spent years studying the island's 887 statues, said the islanders need to take action now to prevent their sacred culture from being commercialized like ancient Hawaiian and Tahitian tikis have been over the last 50 years.

The four Styrofoam statues, meantime, were standing Thursday outside a prop shop a few blocks from the Paramount lot.

Shop manager John Chai said he was unfamiliar with the history of the mock statues. But he said the figures, called "Easter tiki heads," are available for $390 each a week.

And heads up, Easter Islanders: The fake statues are becoming increasingly popular for music videos and parties, Chai said.

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