On Monday, ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY middle school students had a special opportunity to reconnect with former classmate Kea Peahu, star of the new Netflix film Finding ʻOhana. She and the film’s director, Jude Weng, joined Grade 6-8 students, faculty, and special guests for a Zoom Q & A where they shared their insights and experiences in the film industry.
Peahu attended ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY for Grades 1 and 2 before relocating to Los Angeles with her family to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional dancer and actor. She has appeared on Ellen, won season two of “World of Dance” with her dance group The Lab, toured with Jennifer Lopez on her It’s My Party Tour, and was part of Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour in New York. And she’s only 13 years old!
Peahu’s story and the themes in Finding ʻOhana resonate with the core values of IPA – kindness, generosity of spirit, community, and going forward with confidence. Charming, humble, and with a sense of gratitude, Peahu talked about how she made the leap to move away from Kapolei and follow her dreams with the support of her mom.
“One day my mom and I were in the car and on the radio she heard about an acting event and decided to take me to it because she wanted me to try something new,” explained Peahu. “It was my first time acting, ever, and I realized how much I really liked it. Agents and managers were telling my mom that it would be hard for me to do all of these things if I were living in Hawaiʻi so she made the really big sacrifice and moved me from Hawaiʻi to L.A.”
That decision has clearly paid off. Peahu and her successes are an inspiration to her former classmates, and she shared some valuable advice with them.
“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Like if you’re shy or anything if you want to be an actor, that’s one of the things you’re going to have to step out of,” she shared. “And don’t let anyone stop you, the only person who can stop you at the end of the day is yourself. I feel like your biggest challenge is facing yourself. You have to believe in yourself and you can’t let anyone’s opinions or what they say get in the way of following your own dreams.”
That message of believing in yourself was echoed by director Jude Weng.
“Your ideas, your background, where you come from, the ideas that come from you are going to be special – and for you to place value in that in itself is important,” shared Weng. “Creativity is so important for this generation, and every generation, because there is nothing like you. The power of creativity is always in your hands – you don’t need anyone’s permission to create right now. The power behind that and the uniqueness of what you can create is really exciting. I hope everyone is inspired to find some way to be creative.”
As a way to give back to Hawai’i after filming, Weng and Finding ʻOhana screenwriter Christina Strain started a creative writing scholarship at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. They hope it will encourage other Hawaiians to proudly tell the story of Hawaiʻi.
“The message I hope the movie imparts is that it’s never too late to explore and discover and appreciate your heritage,” Weng explained. “Those values and that connection to family are evergreen, and I think it’s a very universal message – love and appreciation for your heritage and for your family.”
Peahu’s former classmates, now in Grade 8, were excited to see her and hear about her journey since she moved away.
“I was inspired by the sacrifices Kea made to follow her dreams and the people who supported her through her journey,” shared Kiana de la Cruz-Swauger ʻ25. “I’m just glad she was able to experience this in her life and that she knows that she is supported by the people at IPA.”
Shastine Sirivattha ‘25 was really happy to see Kea again. “We were close friends back when she was at IPA, and it was nice to see her after many years, connecting with our IPA community again.”
“It was really nice to see how Kea has grown as a person,” said Joshua Figueroa ‘25. “I think that she still has the same humbleness and generosity that she had the day that I first met her, and it reminded me what a good friend she was.”
Elementary teacher, Ruth Babas, often tells her students about Kea’s story to help inspire them to go for their dreams. “Kea truly is that ball of fire that ignites us all to do our very best and that is the message I continue to share with all of our students,” she explained. “It is wonderful to be able to make a connection and share with our students.”
Although Peahu doesn’t have the chance to visit Hawaiʻi as often as she’d like, her love of local food hasn’t waned. “I really like SPAM musubi and spicy poke!” she shared.
Weng agreed. “And, you know what, the best SPAM musubi comes from 7-11!”