– Story by Lin Stranberg Photography by Lia Crowe
Keilani Elizabeth Rose is a Vancouver-based young woman with multiple talents, deep convictions and a very busy calendar. She dances, acts, writes, produces and even deejays—andshe makes her feature film debut this winter in The Sinners, a teen cult thriller that premiered at California’s Mammoth Lakes Film Festival under its pre-Netflix title of The Color Rose.
She has several projects on the go, all of which began during the pandemic.
“My best way of coping is to create,” she said.
So when COVID-19 hit last spring, she co-created FLIMSY, a web series, with two-time Grammy winner Printz Board and an all-star cast.
“FLIMSY was born because we desperately needed some light and love to take our minds off of the heavy time the world was in. We found an innovative way to film in isolation, bring our community together across borders and countries despite the lockdown, and make some art. It kept our minds distracted, our hearts hopeful and the frequency positive.”
FLIMSY went on to win awards at international festivals, and Keilani went on to another collaboration with Printz Board on Within the Silence, a short film about domestic abuse involving a hearing-impaired seven-year-old, which she hopes will draw some much-needed attention to the disabled community.
After a deejaying stint in Tulum this winter, she’s back in Vancouver for a project dear to her heart. She’ll produce and play the lead in Breathe, an experimental short written by Cody Kearsley (of The CW’s Riverdale).
“Our hope is to uplift communities struggling with addiction and substance abuse, specifically the Indigenous community. Part of our exploration with this film is to create awarenessof the destructive generational effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples. It’s important to us to share this story through a resilient lens, which inspired us to establish the first Native Youth Mentorship Program, inviting local Indigenous youth to shadow crew members during principal filming so they can get a feel for the industry. I want them to know they can have a place and a voice here.”
As part of her journey, Keilani has also started to write her first feature film, a story about an Indigenous girl who survives the foster care system as part of the “Sixties Scoop” and finds her way back to the strength of her family and her community. Its working title is Sunflower. Keilani identifies strongly with the Indigenous community and her intersectional cultural heritage: she grew up in Prince George, BC, with a Hawaiian mother and Lheidli T’enneh antecedents, including the famed Granny Seymour, a highly honoured elder of the Lheidli T’enneh Nation.
“Storytelling is part of my existence,” she said. “My people, both Lheidli T’enneh and Hawaiian, never had a written language before colonization: history, knowledge and culture had always been traditionally shared through stories, song, dance and chant. This is a beautiful way of life I get to represent and perpetuate with my creativity.”
Her Hawaiian mother, an accomplished hula dancer, was a huge influence.
“She really instilled in my sisters and me valuable lessons about creativity, following your heart and fighting for your beliefs. We grew up in poverty but our home was always filled with joy and love. Mamma made sure of that. She can make magic out of anything.”
With the support of her mom and her community, she was able to study dance as she grew up.
“Seeing all the sacrifices my mom made so that my sisters and I could grow up with our artistic outlets is something that stays with me every step of the way. Without her selflessness, my sisters and I would not be where we are today. We were also blessed to have in our corner angels like Judy Russell and Bunny Murray at Enchainement Dance Centre, who made space for us to access our brightest potential.”
Keilani was the first recipient of the Performers North Special Assistance Fund, established to enable underprivileged kids to participate in the company’s festival tours that their families otherwise couldn’t afford.
“This was my first experience with a community that stood for inclusivity. That feeling of people believing in you so deeply is a driving force for me to do everything I can to make it count, and do my part to give back and make space to include others with less privilege whenever I have the chance. “
She moved to Vancouver to pursue dance and landed a contract on the Disney Dream, part of the Disney Cruise Line, which introduced her to Broadway-level production values. Dancing at that level led her to an agent, and that led her to acting.
Right before her big break on screen, Keilani got excited about deejaying. She quickly became professional and played on the international circuit, as well as for local legends like the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and musicians Tegan & Sara. Her signature sets weave together stories and messages through music, which has always been a big thing in her family. Her sisters Tiare and KeAloha play ukulele, her uncles played drums, and KeAloha also sings and writes music.
“Music and dance and acting are so complementary that I feel the strength and diversity they give my artistry. Acting reconnected me to the power of my voice and led me to the questions, ‘What stories do I need to tell?’ ‘Whose stories need to be elevated and amplified?’ and ‘How can we create greater unity and compassion by sharing these stories?’”
She adds: “Especially right now, with the momentum of awareness and progression for the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #IndigenousSovereignty movements and the fight against Indigenous invisibility, we as artists really get to recognize the power we hold with our platforms and make informed, deliberate choices about the content we create to promote unity and equality.
“Representation matters so much. And being a female person of colour in this industry gives me the ability to influence great change. It is a responsibility that fills me with purpose and inspiration.”