Ah Quon “AQ” McElrath (1915-2008), was an intellectual force who gave voice to Hawaiʻi’s working class, and helped power a labor movement based on racial equality that transformed Hawaiʻi from a semi-feudal oligarchy to a modern labor democracy.
Born to immigrant Chinese parents and raised in extreme poverty, she became one of Hawaiʻi’s most influential leaders, helping shape the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) into a powerful force for social change. After retirement from the union, she continued to work tirelessly for social and economic justice. She championed universal health care, education, press freedom, civil and human rights.
Her lifelong leadership in education resulted in an appointment to the University of Hawaiʻi’s Board of Regents.
AQ the Film
By exploring her life, the Ah Quon McElrath Project documents some of Hawaiʻi’s most important history and demonstrates how one woman’s compassionate determination helped to lift thousands of families out of poverty.
Her remarkable story is inextricably tied to critical historical events. Her life journey encompasses not only the rise of labor unions in Hawaiʻi, but reveals the selfless and heroic sacrifices of a generation of working people.
Her story chronicles the labor movement’s achievement of decent hours, decent pay, safe working conditions, and a voice in the direction of Hawaiʻi's future for working class people.
Why should I support the AQ Project?
With your support, we will create a documentary that preserves forever the life story of this extraordinary woman! Through rare and fascinating footage, we will illustrate the struggle of those who labored on plantations, on docks, and in hotels and factories.
The Project will maintain a robust website that allows free access to the documentary, to our complete interviews for the documentary and other projects, and to our educational materials about Hawaiʻi history and culture. In addition, we will create curriculum materials for classroom use to insure that this important history is not lost in the chasm of time. These components build on three decades of video documentation of Hawaiʻi’s plantation culture and labor history captured by the Center for Labor Education & Research (CLEAR) at the University of Hawaiʻi - West Oʻahu.
Chris Conybeare has won numerous awards, including an Emmy, for his documentary productions about Hawaiʻi. Through his work, he has helped create a digital moving image archive that documents Hawaii’s plantation and working class history. He helmed the international news program, Asia Now, with partners, Japan’s NHK, and PBS stations KCTS Seattle, and PBS Hawaiʻi. As an attorney, he has been at the forefront of struggles for human rights, both at home and abroad. AQ McElrath is one of his personal heroes and he sees the current documentary project as both a tribute to her and a message about compassion and courage for future generations!
Joy Chong-Stannard is a Hawaiʻi based independent filmmaker with extensive experience in archival research of historic photographs, moving images and historic documents that lend a visual dynamic to her portrayal of island history. Chong-Stannard’s fascination with Hawaiʻi past led to directing and editing productions that explore the dynamic social and economic upheavals of Hawaiʻi’s history that include Betrayal, the award-winning nationally broadcast docudrama of the overthrow of Hawaiʻi’s last reigning monarch and the ongoing Biography Hawai‘i series. Her production of Ka Hana Kapa tells the inspiring story about a small group of women who sought to revive the ancient art of making kapa or Hawaiian bark cloth. She is also the Producer/Director of the live weekly public affairs program, Insights on PBS Hawaiʻi.
Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
Screenwriter Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl is a writer and educator. She has been the researcher, writer, and co-Producer for the popular series Biography
Hawaiʻi on PBS. She has also written numerous other Hawai‘i history documentaries, including Jack Hall: His Life and Times. Her volume of plays and three mystery novels have been published by UH Press. Ms. Kneubuhl is the recipient of the Hawaiʻi Award for Literature, our state’s highest literary honor.
The project is a collaboration between the Hawai‘i Labor Heritage Council (HLHC),
the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR), University of Hawai‘i-West Oahu, and Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking. Made possible thanks to the generous support of Frank Moy and Marcia Mau
and the Hawai'i Council for the Humanities.