Thomas Pa’a Sibbett - Humans of the Islands
Thomas Pa'a Sibbett: Nurturing Polynesian Voices Through Film and Resilience
In a candid and insightful conversation, Thomas Pa'a Sibbett or Pa’a Sibbett - as he laughingly shared. “When I first started writing, I thought I needed a professional sounding name so that’s where Thomas came from but most people call me Pa’a.” The Co-writer of Aquaman shares his unique journey of self-discovery, cultural pride, and the pursuit of his voice as a screenwriter.
Hailing from Hawaii before immigrating to Washington, Sibbett's experiences have not only shaped his identity but also fueled his passion for storytelling, particularly through the lens of his Polynesian culture.
Sibbett begins by reflecting on his childhood. Moving from Hawaii to Washington as his family were “Priced out of Paradise” as most indigenous Hawaiians are experiencing sadly. He shares that although they lived away from their island, they still remained very much connected to their culture through art & dance.
Sibbett recalls times where he and his family would use culture to keep kids out of trouble in their neighborhood.
“We also did anti-gang work. And when I say ‘we’ it was really spearheaded by my older brother who was heavily involved in gangs for a while and realized how difficult it was to get out. So we started using, Polynesian culture primarily to create clubs. Diversity clubs, cultural awareness clubs.”
As most children of diaspora would know, it’s no easy feat to remain connected to one’s culture, while also assimilating to your new surroundings. So for the Sibbett family to remain so grounded and to keep others grounded is inspiring.
The screenwriter's journey takes a pivotal turn when he moves back home to Hawaii for college, seeking to bridge the gap he felt growing up.
“I just felt like I needed to know more about myself”
Struggling to fit in initially, Sibbett realizes that his blend of Hawaiian and Washingtonian roots is something to be proud of, sparking his journey of self-acceptance.
“I started realizing that, you know, my Hawaiian isn't necessarily something that I need to prove…And so I got to the point where I actually found myself being proud to say, well, you know, I'm raised in Washington. There were certain things about me that made me different. And that was good, you know, that I didn't have to fit into the mold”
Embracing his unique identity becomes the cornerstone for Sibbett's development of a distinct voice as a screenwriter. Sibbett strongly believes that finding who you truly are is the way to develop your voice as a storyteller.
Sibbett opens up about his humble beginnings, growing up in a household where financial struggles were a daily reality. Despite facing economic hardships, he witnessed his father's determination to provide a better life for his family, becoming a source of inspiration for Sibbett's own aspirations. So when Sibbett decided to become a screenwriter, he recalls wanting to spend as little money as possible on becoming a screenwriter. So he got to work.
The screenwriter's decision to pursue writing, despite financial constraints, reveals a deep-seated determination and a commitment to his passion. Choosing not to attend school for screenwriting, Sibbett became a self-taught student of the craft and had already written 12 scripts before ever selling one.
Writing in his spare time, so as to not inconvenience his family. Already married with 4 children and a full time job during this time, he recalls the moment he received the news he sold his very first script.
“I’m in the hospital with my 5th child who was just born when I got a call from Jason (Momoa) saying ‘Congratulations we sold our first Script!”
It was from this point onwards that Sibbett would quit his full time job and go into writing/production full time. Sibbett’s story is a tale of grit, hard work and determination. While also ensuring his pursuit of his dreams didn’t negatively impact his home life, a balance that not many are able to maintain.
Sibbett has most recently been in Production for the highly anticipated series ‘Chief of War’ based on the unification of the Hawaiian islands in order to fight colonization. He is most proud that they were able to cast an all Polynesian cast for a series based on history as important as this. He acknowledges that even as a Polynesian lead production that they too had their own cultural missteps during production, but is hopeful that with more Polynesians leading international productions, that we may be able to integrate more of our cultural values and understandings into the way International Productions operate.
Sibbett passionately believes in the power of film as the next great avenue for Polynesian people to express themselves. He envisions a future where the richness of Polynesian culture, regardless of upbringing – be it in a rural area or a Western society like Tacoma, Washington – is authentically portrayed on the big screen. Through film, Sibbett aims to showcase the diverse perspectives, values, and experiences that make Polynesian voices distinct and compelling.
Thomas Pa'a Sibbett's story is one of resilience, cultural pride, and the unwavering belief in the transformative power of storytelling. As he continues to break barriers and amplify Polynesian voices, Sibbett stands as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring artists and storytellers, proving that identity, culture, and creativity can coalesce to create impactful narratives.