About the Film

What does it mean to be a colonial subject of the greatest democracy on earth?

A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges. Turn your attention, therefore, first to your remotest provinces. – Benjamin Franklin, 1773

The Insular Empire is a one-hour PBS documentary about America’s colonies in the western Pacific. Six thousand miles west of California, the Mariana Islands include the U.S. Territory of Guam and the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI). Although most Americans don’t believe the US is an empire, by many standards, these “insular areas” are American colonies. And most Americans know nothing about them.

The Insular Empire will change this.

From the beaches of Guam to the White House, from the CIA to the Peace Corps, from beauty pageants to the UN – The Insular Empire follows four indigenous island leaders, to discover what it means to belong to America’s ‘insular empire’ in the Pacific. Ultimately, it is a story of loyalty and betrayal, about a patriotic island people struggling to find their place within the American political family.

Four People, Four Viewpoints

Hope Cristobal is a museum director, former Guam Senator, and creator of Guam’s Commission on Decolonization. For the past thirty years she has been struggling to make her people’s voices heard at the United Nations. Today she wonders who will follow in her footsteps.

Carlos Taitano, a 92-year old rebel patriot, wants to be a full-fledged American before he dies. After serving as an officer in the US Army under General MacArthur, he led a revolt that gave the Chamorro people of Guam US citizenship. Today, he craves ‘the ultimate goal of every American citizen’: US statehood.

Lino Olopai worked first for the CIA and then for the Peace Corps, to help his family survive after World War II. Today he is trying to bridge the gap between his Carolinian roots and the freedoms that come with his new American identity.

Pete A. Tenorio was a key negotiator of the Northern Marianas’ covenant with the US. Devoted to all things American, he willingly sacrificed his islands’ sovereignty to make them a part of ‘the American political family.’ Today he begs Washington for his people’s basic needs, and struggles to maintain his faith in the American Dream.