By Wayne Harada
“Kumu Hina,” a film about a transgender Native Hawaiian teacher and cultural leader, has been green-lit by national public television funders Pacific Islanders in Communications and ITVS (Independent Television Service).
Thus, the Pacific mahu culture, or transgenders common in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, will receive vast exposure for the first time.
The film’s key character, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, pictured, is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools who transitioned from male to female more than 20 years ago. Now, she is a respected and beloved kumu and cultural scholar at Halau Lokahi, a Hawaiian values-based Public Charter School in Honolulu, where she employs her cultural grounding to empower students to be who they are and know that in Hawaii there is a welcoming “place in the middle” for everyone.
The film, two years in the making, is by the Emmy-winning Oahu-based producing team of Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, who decided to focus on the widespread and commonly known community of the mahu to magnify the acceptance of this culture in a world today filled with prejudice and discrimination if you’re different.
“ ‘Kumu Hina’s’ message of aloha — unconditional acceptance and respect for all — is timely and sorely needed,” said Hamer.
“Told through Hina’s very moving personal and Hawaiian perspective,” said Wilson.
At a time when there is rampant discrimination against gender noncomforming people, the filmmaker hope the documentary will ultimately reverse hate to acceptance.
“The film has great potential to inspire and help audiences see themselves, their families, schools and communities, in powerful new ways – and to ensure that no one, particularly younger people, faces harassment, discrimination or violence simply because they don't conform to modern society's gender norms,” said Wilson.
In the movie, Hina inspires a tomboyish young girl to fight for her place as leader of the school’s all-male hula troupe as she herself takes a chance at happiness when she marries an unpredictable young Tongan man who is having difficulty adjusting to life in modern Honolulu.
“We are so grateful to be able to support this project in hopes that it will bring understanding, acceptance, and enlightenment to all who view it,” said Leanne Ferrer, executive director of Pacific Islanders in Communication, based in Honolulu.
“Kumu Hina” will premiere in film festivals in early 2014 and be telecast on national public television in 2015.
The project’s team included co-producer Connie M. Florez, musical score composer Makana, and writer-narraor Leonelle Akana.