"A Story of Deep Inner Grace, Uplifting Beauty, and Self Empowerment in a Paradisiacal Land"
ImageOut Rochester Review by Jennifer Morgan:
The inspiring documentary, Kumu Hina, introduces us to Hina Wong-Kalu, a native Hawaiian transgender woman embracing her cultural heritage in contemporary Honolulu as a respected teacher (or “kumu”), an active cultural council member, and a newlywed.
A beautifully animated prologue by Jared Greenleaf introduces us to the māhū tradition, and directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (ImageOut 2009’s Out in the Silence) offer insight into Hawaiian history and culture while integrating several facets of Hina’s life with the native dance and music so dear to her.
Among the students at the Hālau Lōkahi public charter school, where Hina teaches native Hawaiian studies, we meet Ho’onani, a young tomboy who longs to lead the boys’ hula troupe in her school’s end-of-year pageant.
The compassion, support, and gentle respect that Hina brings to her students are evident throughout the film, exposing an especially rich aspect of her life and gifts as a teacher.
On assignment as a traditional burial council member, Hina oversees the respectful handling and care of native burials that may be disturbed as work on a new rail system progresses. She carefully inspects the advancing excavation and liaises between the native council, foreman, and work crews.
We share Hina’s joyful reunion with Hema, a young Tongan from Fiji still adjusting to his new life in Hawaii, and as their marriage unfolds we witness the ups and downs that come with any relationship as it enters a new phase.
Striking a balance by living an authentic life in a paradisiacal land, Hina’s story is one of deep inner grace, uplifting beauty, and self-empowerment.
Without ignoring the differences between traditional and contemporary attitudes, she molds a life full of dignity, humility, and true inner joy.
On Gender, LGBTQ, Māhū, Leʻaleʻa, and Homophobia
By Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp, author of “Pūlama: Cherishing Our Hawaiian Heritage”
To understand culture, it is absolutely necessary to have a firm foundation in the Hawaiian language. The Hawaiian language is the door to a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture. There is absolutely no way around that. If one ones to understand the world view of ancient Hawaiians, one must learn Hawaiian and leave aside preconceptions about Hawaiian culture, especially given that much of what we were taught in schools is not completely in agreement with what was being written about in Hawaiian language newspapers a century ago. This includes Kanaka Maoli or Hawaiians themselves who are learning their ancestral language.
It is also not only true of those learning the Hawaiian language, but of those learning any foreign language. When one learns language, one eventually learns aspects of the culture because one can not separate language from culture, social norms, class, gender and power structures. Culture, social structure, and history are all embedded in the grammar and terminology of any language.
In most Indo-European (i.e. Greek, English, Latin, French, etc) and Afro-Asiatic (i.e. Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopian) languages, the social concept of binary gender (male and female genders) is re-enforced through the grammar. English linguistic convention, for example, has historically treated men as default and prototypical of the human species and for “God.” “He” is often used in laws and constitutions (i.e. the Hawaiian Constitution of 1864, the US Constitution, etc) to mean “a person.”
Gender pronouns also help to re-enforce cultural gender-appropriateness of certain professions and socio-religious concepts.
In looking at Hawaiian grammar, one will notice that “he,” “she,” and “it” were all the gender neutral pronoun, “o ʻia.” This is not only true of Hawaiian, but in every single Austronesian language. In Marquesan, to’ia can mean he, she, or it. In Tahitian, ōna or ‘oia means he, she, or it. Siya in Tagalog can me he, she, or it. Dia or ia in Bahasa Indonesia can mean he, she, and it. This is largely a remnant of what some like to call our “deep culture” or “cultural subconscious” from millenniums ago by our first maritime ancestors and that survived through our modern languages and still rests within our linguistic conventions and grammar.
The construction of Hawaiian grammar specifically in relation to gender pronouns shows clearly that Hawaiian, just like other Austronesian languages, did not have a construction of a binary gender, social and class system unlike Europeans or those in the Middle-East. They did not see humanity as being divided simply into two genders nor were binary gender roles re-enforced institutionally.
The view of most Pacific Islanders as is evident in early accounts and in their language grammars in fact shows a more polygender outlook.
In most pre-Christian and pre-Islamic Pacific societies, there were not simply “male” and “female” gender identities but several. For example, among the Bugis, gender identity was divided into five. In most Philippine and Polynesian societies, gender identities were divided into three: male, female, and a third gender. Since multiple identities seem to have always existed in most (if not all) Pacific Island societies and nations prior to colonialism, it makes sense why no personal pronoun defining gender (he / she) would be needed. This would also explain why in most Polynesian languages, inoa or names were also gender neutral. The Hawaiian name “Mahealani” for example can be either the name of a male or a female.
Certainly in most Pacific Island societies, including Hawaiian society, there were gender roles, but as mentioned, there were more than two genders identities.
We also know that in old Hawaiian society, which was a polyamorous society, both females and males kept multiple partners either of the same (‘aikane) and / or of a different gender identity.
We also know that both female and male akua had kanawai akua, kanawai kapu or sacred laws which again underlines that Hawaiians were not a patriarchal society and had a polygender understanding. If Hawaiians had a cultural binary view of gender identity similar to the West, they would have restricted “unions” or partners, names and would had gender-specific personal pronouns.
With the introduction of Islam and Christianity, however, gender roles needed to be defined within the context of their own religious traditions.
In some cases, there was also a need to suppress female priestesses and māhū (bissu/asog/bayoguin) identities as often females and māhū were a link to pre-Christian / pre-Islamic traditions and undermined the new gender roles that were being implemented. Normally this suppression occurred through the imposition of the colonial language, through church, and through sodomy laws.
In many areas of Indonesia and the Philippines, this suppression did not normally happen through Islamic institutions (as some considered it adat or customary law) but later through imposed colonial laws, the colonial education system and more recently through the influence of Saudi Arabia.
The imposition of a binary gender world view in the Pacific by colonial or outside powers is extremely important in understanding traditional mana’o (thoughts) concerning third gender, māhū, and other gender identities and the origins of ho’okae māhū (homophobia).
Kumu Hina Reunites with Family in Zhongshan, China
Separated by the Pacific Ocean for three generations, Hinaʻs visit to China for screenings of the film enabled her to find and reunite with her distant Chinese relatives living in a small village near Zhuhai, Guangdong province.
Guangzhou LGBT Center Hosts Kumu Hina Screening
A diverse range of community organizations and leaders hosted a screening and talk story conversation with Hina Wong-Kalu and directors Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson on Sept. 14.
Rainbow of Hong Kong Hosts Kumu Hina Screening
The Rainbow Center of Hong Kong hosted a screening and wonderful evening of sharing experiences across cultures with Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu and directors Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson on Sept. 11.
Going Global with the True Meaning of Aloha
This week, we’re heading off to China for a series of KUMU HINA events organized by local activists seeking to advance the country’s emerging movement for understanding and acceptance of transgender and gender fluid people.
We’ll be visiting Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Beijing, where Hina’s presence at the screenings, and her desire to make deeper connections with her Chinese heritage, is sure to heighten the experience for audiences in powerfully moving ways.
As Hina put it: “My Chinese grandmother has been one of the greatest influences in my life. But I’ve never had a chance to visit her ancestral home. I hope our film tour will do honor to the family name, and help Chinese viewers understand and embrace a message from my other homeland, about the true meaning of aloha - love, honor, and respect for all.”
If you can’t make it to China with us, there are lots of other screenings coming up.
You can check out the full list of events and get all the details on the film website.
Here are a few of the highlights just in case you’re in the neighborhood:
Sept. 12 - Austin, TX
Sept. 12 - Fargo, ND
Sept. 13 - Beacon, NY
Sept. 17 - Honolulu, HI
Sept. 19 - Geneva, Switzerland
Sept. 20 - Palm Springs, CA
Sept. 21 - Chicago, IL
Sept. 25 - Hagatna, Guam
Sept. 27 - Eau Claire, WI
Oct. 3 - Caracas, Venezuela
Oct. 4 - Tampa, FL
Oct. 6 - Oaxaca, Mexico
Oct. 9 - Seattle, WA
Oct. 9 - Rochester, NY
Oct. 18 - Kyoto, Japan
Oct. 18 - Hamburg, Germany
Oct. 21 - Hannover, Germany
Oct. 25 - Lewisburg, WV
Nov. 9 - San Diego, CA
Nov. 9 - Juarez, Mexico
Nov. 11 - Los Angeles, CA
Nov. 22 - Philadelphia, PA
Dec. 10 - New York, NY
If you don’t see anything near you on this list, KUMU HINA will soon be available on GATHR, an awesome new theatrical-on-demand service that enables people to bring the movie that they want to see to a theater in their community.
In the meantime, we look forward to sharing these and other journeys with you as we work together toward some better world.
Thanks for staying tuned,
Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer
New Website Unveiled!
Click on the photo, or HERE, to view
Kumu Hina Winner of AAIFF 2014 New York Audience Award
The 37th Asian American International Film Festival Announces the 2014 Award Recipients – see full list HERE.
The Georgie Girl Campaign: Help Georgina Beyer Fight Kidney Disease
During our recent tour of Aotearoa (New Zealand) with KUMU HINA, we had the privilege of spending time with Georgina Beyer and Annie Goldson (pictured below).
Georgina, the charismatic star of Annieʻs powerful 2002 documentary GEORGIE GIRL, is the world’s first openly transgender person to be elected to public office. Of Maori descent, Georgina is an example of a courageous individual who overcame adversity, marginalization and discrimination to become a positive force for change and an enduring symbol of hope and inspiration to people around the world.
Georgina is currently suffering from end-stage chronic renal failure and Annie has created an online campaign to help cover the exorbitant costs of her medical treatment.
Please see Annieʻs letter below to learn more about the campaign and an opportunity to see the film.
We hope youʻll join us in supporting and spreading the word about this effort.
Thank you for your attention and consideration,
Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer
KUMU HINA Producers/Directors
Thanks so much to those of you who have donated to the Save Georgina Fund. As many of you will know, Georgina Beyer, the first transgender person to be elected into national office in the world, has renal failure and is having dialysis four times a day as she waits on the list for a kidney transplant.
We have made it over the $3,000 mark with another $1,000 from a fundraising screening we had along with Documentary Edge in Wellington. We’re still going: and for another month yet you can still stream GEORGIE GIRL free (or preferably in exchange for a donation).
To access the Save Georgina Fund: open www.op.co.nz, click on Give and follow the instructions ..
There is some relatively good news for Georgina and those facing renal disease. The Government is putting more money into the kidney donation process that could see more people accessing this life-saving operation.
In the meantime, by chance I met Hawaii based filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. They were showing KUMU HINA, their documentary about a native Hawaiian transgender woman. The film follows Hina, who is an inspiring teacher working at an indigenous school in Hawaii. The film also traces her rocky relationship with her relatively traditional Tongan husband.
By chance Joe and Dean were showing KUMU HINA in Wellington immediately before GEORGIE GIRL showed at DocEdge. A remarkable coincidence that the only two films in the world about politically influential Polynesian transgender women were showing in the same location on the same night!
What struck me upon watching these films back-to-back, was how these two transgender women, in their different ways, have gone through really difficult life paths, struggled against all sorts of odds, to reach a place where they could contribute to their respective societies in very powerful and important ways.
There is a generosity about them we don’t seen much. My understanding is that prior to Christianity being introduced, transgender males and females occupied significant and respected places within Polynesian culture and by hook or by crook, Georgina and Hina managed to find their way back. All power to them, as this has not be easy path for either of them.
Please circulate this amongst your lists …. and help Georgina Beyer continue to be an inspiration to us all.
Professor Annie Goldson
"Kumu Hina: A Stunning Eye-Opener, A Filmic Encounter"
Transformers: New Yorkʻs Asian American International Film Festival
by Howard Feinstein - July 23, 2014
Over the years, many New York-based media arts organizations and the film festivals they produce have folded, or scraped by in spite of outdated approaches and rigid programming. Asian CineVision and its offspring, the Asian American International Film Festival, on the other hand, have proven to be the little engines that could. The secret to their success: a keen awareness of shifts in the zeitgeist and talent pool, without losing sight of the Asian American community they serve (with a value added outreach to non Asian American communities). They are masters of reinvention.
The 37th edition of the AAIFF (July 24-August 2) is comprised of 18 features and 33 shorts whose point of origin and makers might be Asian American or Asian (with an occasional non-Asian or non-Asian American directing an Asian subject).
One stunning eye-opener does not fit the usual fest slots: Kumu Hina, an intimate, very personal doc — a filmic encounter, really — by non-Asian American co-directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (Out in the Silence). The two spent a year following a transgender woman, a mahu, someone who lies between male and female. In the context of this festival, she could, as a Hawaiian, be considered either Asian American or Polynesian, or both, because she is indigenous and closely identifies with her native culture.
Isn’t it ironic? A culturally specific subject plays a culturally pliant festival. The fact that the AAIFF begins on exactly the same day as Newfest this year (on a Thursday at that) makes it especially curious that Kumu Hina is screening at the Asian American rather than the LGBT fest. “Hina transcends the usual categories that western culture seems compelled to put people in,” says Hamer. “Some film festivals get that, like Frameline (where it won the Jury Prize for documentary). Others don’t, like Outfest and Newfest, which decided not to program the film, apparently because they had ‘too many trans docs’ this year — as if every film, too, had to be put in its own little box.”
Unlike what up until recently has been the fate of many transgender individuals on the mainland, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, or Hina, lives in a supportive native Hawaiian culture that has traditionally held a respectful place for those whose sexual identities are outside the norm. (Jared Greenleaf’s powerful animation illustrates the pre-contact embrace of mahu.) She is a strong woman, the recent bride of a Tongan husband, and a successful teacher of arts, particularly dance, whose self-appointed mission is to promote native culture. She takes under her wing at Halau Lokali, a charter school geared toward all things native, Ho’onani, a young sixth-grade girl with strong ku, or energy, which puts the self-assured youngster in the middle, as they say in Hawaii, and enables her, with Hina’s blessing, to lead the boys-only hula class. (Hamer and Wilson’s next project is a short educational film on Ho’onani, told from her pov, with the goal of showing it in schools all across the country.)
The world Hina lives in, and by this I mean class as well as gender, is something that tourists never see. Here’s your chance — and a colorful world it is.
The Film That Charmed Frameline Deserves a Wide Audience
The Reasons Why Award Winning Indie Documentary “Kumu Hina” Deserves A Wide Audience Are Precisely Why It Might Miss Out
by Alice Lytton - July 17, 2014:
There’s a certain sadness to writing about “Kumu Hina”, the Frameline Jury Award Winner For Achievement in Documentary. It is certainly not the result of missed expectations but of a potentially missed audience: I worry this film might not be as widely seen as it should be, and it really should be seen.
It follows the eponymous protagonist - Hina Wong-Kalu - charting her life teaching school children traditional songs and dance in Hawaii. This may sound relatively quotidian on the face of things, but in execution it is anything but. Filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson have achieved that rare thing in LGBT documentary making: a subtle but inspiring tale.
I say this because unlike some so-called “inspiring” or “powerful” LGBT documentaries, “Kumu Hina” has the courage to offer a portrait of a life as it really is. In Hina they have an activist who is brave and self-assured, but who can also be weak and insecure. Nothing of Hina is hidden or obscured. She is an inspiring trans woman, a woman you want teaching your own children with her calm authority and perceptive compassion, but she is also a woman who let’s herself be taken advantage of, who deserves more than she sometimes gets and whose life is a fragile balancing act between seeking happiness and resisting exploitation. It is this willingness to explore the often contradictory nature of humanity that gives “Kumu Hina” its power.
And here’s where I have to check myself - and indeed where so much of “Kumu Hina“‘s singularity lies: in the above paragraph I referred to Hina as a trans woman. That, in a way, was an act of deep cultural disrespect, linguistic colonialism, even. The ubiquitous phrase in our mainland lexicon for Hina’s gender identity is to refer to her as a trans gender woman; she certainly uses female pronouns. And yet this is not a term she herself adopts. Hina is mahu, the Hawai’ian term for a person who straddles the male - female binary. We might also refer to it as “gender queer” but even then it doesn’t feel right imposing a locution on a woman who so articulately speaks for herself. This is a film which could, if given the chance, push people both within and without the LGBT community to question not only their assumptions but also their language.
And yet, in a decision completely incomprehensible to this reviewer, the film was snubbed by Outfest this year. Of course I can’t be sure, but I wonder if it has something to do with the very difficulty that makes “Kumu Hina” so powerful: the refusal, for example, to paper the cracks in Hina’s relationship with her husband. This is a moment in the film of brutal but necessary realism. If festival curators think this will turn audiences off, they are are making a big mistake.
As we watch Hina in her community, revered for precisely who she is, teaching young men, women and mahu, it is impossible not to feel that the world needs more teachers like her, and that this film can’t get a bigger audience than it deserves.
"An Incredibly Poignant and Moving Documentary"
Trans Cinema Is Here And Now
by Ewan Duarte - July 14, 2014:
Kumu Hina, a new documentary directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, is an incredibly poignant and moving documentary. I have never seen a trans film, or any film about Hawaii and Hawaiians, regardless of the trans component, like Kuma Hina. The film breathes with life and is very powerful and educational, and raises awareness about the impacts and history of American colonialism that Native Hawaiians have endured, and also highlights trans themes and experiences.
Kumu Hina is a documentary about Hina Wong-Kalu, a respected teacher of traditional Hawaiian culture, practices, and arts who happens to be mahu, or a transgender woman. The documentary intimately weaves her challenging personal life with her newly married Tongan husband; their cultural challenges and deep love for one another with her powerful impact as a respected community leader and teacher. Her impact and example is in particular palpable and empowering to Ho’onani, a sixth-grad tomboy who identifies as being “in the middle.”
The 10-minute standing ovation that Kumu Hina received at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco as part of the recent Frameline International Film Festival, and the roar of the audience before the Q&A with Directors Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, and Kuma Hina herself, was an event I was grateful to attend in person.
Kumu Hina is not to be missed and best seen on the big screen with a film festival audience.
Where Can I See ‘Kumu Hina’?
For the latest on KUMU HINA screenings across the U.S. and around the world, make sure you check the screenings list at KumuHina.com
Film on Spirit of Aloha Highlights Asian Film Fest of Dallas
July 11, 2014:
Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson didn’t start out as filmmakers, but they certainly have made an impact in the field.
They made their first documentary, the Emmy Award-winning Out in the Silence, after they got married in Vancouver and placed a wedding announcement in Wilson’s small-town newspaper of Oil City, Penn.
“For a year, the paper was deluged with a contentious, often ugly, debate about the ‘appropriateness’ of publishing a ‘gay’ wedding announcement in the paper,” Wilson says.
When they received a letter from the mother of a gay teen in Oil City who was being tormented at school, they filmed their PBS documentary about “the quest for fairness and equality for LGBT people in rural and small-town America,” Wilson says.
Their new documentary, Kuma Hina — which plays Saturday July 12 at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas — follows Hina Wong-Kalu, a native mahu (roughly, “transgender”) who strives to preserve Hawaiian culture in an increasingly Westernized world. We see Hina relate to her students (whom she teaches traditions such as hula), her husband (a Tongan struggling in the big city) and as a leader of cultural preservation.
We spoke with Wilson about this film, including the more enlightened approach to gender diversity in indigenous peoples and the need to connect with ancient cultures.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
To learn more about the filmmakers’ grassroots campaign, visit Kickstarter.com and search “Kuma Hina: A Hawaiian Model for Gender Diversity.”
Dallas Voice: Hina is a strong woman and her students seem to respect her like a coach. Did any of them have any derisive things to say about mahu? How accepted is mahu among younger Hawaiians? Students in Hina’s school are very respectful. In Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities, mahu are very visible and normal, part of everyday life — respected and included in family, school, church, business, community life, etc. It is only in the context of rigid Western thought, primarily religious, about gender that problems emerge. So, while negotiating daily life in modern Hawaii, mahu do encounter problems. But at Hina’s Hawaiian-values-based school, it’s not an issue. In fact, Hina is not the only teacher at the school who happens to be mahu.
In general, the Hawaiian spirit of aloha is very real. People here — Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike — tend to be much more courteous, respectful, welcoming and inclusive than in most other places. It’s simply a cultural way of life. If and when there is resistance in the day-to-day, it tends to be subtle rather than confrontational, which is why it didn’t emerge as a strong element in the film.
A right-wing religious and “family values” presence in Hawaii is on the increase, however, and with it is coming much more politicized and visible forms of bigotry and discrimination, as seen during last November’s special legislative session on marriage equality.
Is Hina’s story fairly typical of mahu today, or do many of them encounter more prejudice? Hina’s story is not necessarily typical, and she has experienced the challenges that many mahu and transgender women face in Hawaii’s heavily Westernized dominant culture, similar to trans women anywhere in the U.S. But, as she says in the film, Hina found refuge in being Hawaiian — Kanaka Maoli — and decided to share her story, and a glimpse of traditional Hawaiian cultureʻs more enlightened view of gender and sexuality, as a way to inspire hope for positive change in communities far and wide.
The young tomboy, Ho’onani, offers an interesting parallel story to Hina’s. Was that just luck? I’d love to follow her story 10 years from now. As portrayed in the film, Ho’onani emerged as a primary character in Hina’s story quite unexpectedly. But that is the magic of verite documentary filmmaking — you let the cameras roll and hope that you’re smart, or lucky, enough to capture compelling scenes. When Ho’onani appeared, wanting to join and ultimately lead the boys’ hula troupe, we knew we were witnessing something very special and just tried to make sure we were there to follow her and Hina on the journey they were taking together as mentor and [pupil] in uncharted waters.
While many who view the film are quick to put simplistic or convenient labels on Ho’onani, she is still on her journey, and we’ll see where it goes. The most important thing is that she, and other kids like her, have teachers, and other adults in their lives, like Hina, who are willing and able to support them as they grow up and become who they want to be.
Is mahu the same as what we call “trans,” or is there some kind of subtle difference in the language? I love how Ho’onani defines it as “a rare person.” Mahu is a concept that refers more to those who embrace and embody both male and female spirit rather than those who simply transition from one gender to another. It is much more fluid and encompassing of a personʻs whole being rather than simply about biology and/or sex.
Mahu reminded me of the trans people in India who are respected insofar as it is “bad luck” not to give them alms, or Native Americans’ “third sex” who are respected as mystical. It seems many ancient cultures recognize a “third sex,” but many modern ones don’t. Yes, it seems that most indigenous cultures had and have ways of recognizing and honoring the diversity of the gender spectrum. So, our focus should not be to treat these concepts as exotic curiosities or relics of the past, but rather to counter the religious and other ideologically-driven institutions that have been trying to drive acceptance of gender diversity out of existence for centuries.
Hina and her husband Hema have a sometimes-contentious relationship, but I found Hema fascinating because he’s a simple, small-town farmer trying to be “modern” in his acceptance of a mahu as the woman he loves. Hema perhaps is a reflection of the younger generation of Polynesian men, struggling to make sense of all the conflicting things he’s been taught, including traditional Polynesian acceptance and his family’s conservative (Western) religious beliefs, grounded in a rigid interpretation of gender and sexuality. His journey in the film shows how he’s developing his own way of thinking about these things, aided greatly by a sense of openness and acceptance in Hawaii that he did not experience in his native Tonga. We hope his willingness to share his story in this film speaks to others in a similar spot in life and inspires them to be more independent in their thinking as well.
The hula and music/dance performances were so fascinating and contextual. Is that kind of native Hawaiian culture threatened today? The presence of Hawaiian culture, language and practices is strong in the islands, but also constantly under threat in a modern world more focused on commercial development and tourism than authentic cultural preservation and empowerment. Hina has become a very important figure in today’s Hawaii because she works so hard to keep Hawaiian culture and traditions alive, including the traditional embrace of mahu, and others so commonly marginalized in Western society.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 11, 2014.