eXpression Magazine Covers “Kumu Hina” Premiere

April 11, 2014:

Last night, at the sold-out Hawai‘i Theatre in downtown Honolulu, the community witnessed Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu embark on a journey that few unique souls have dared to venture, and heard about the launch of #APlaceintheMiddle, the campaign to share Hinaʻs message of aloha with the world.

See photos from this powerful event HERE.

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"Kumu Hina" Premiere to Launch Global Campaign for Gender Diversity

PRWeb - April 9, 2014:

At a time when transgender and gender nonconforming people the world over face hostility, violence, discrimination and even murder, a new film from Hawaii offers a fresh perspective and a bold campaign to promote a more just and inclusive world.

KUMU HINA (Teacher Hina) tells the inspiring story of Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who brings to life Hawaiiʻs traditional embrace of mahu - those who embody both male and female spirit.  The film will have its world premiere as the Closing Night Film in the Hawaii International Film Festival on April 10 in Honoluluʻs historic, 1,400 seat Hawaii Theatre.

The sold-out show will also be the launch of a global campaign for gender diversity - #APlaceintheMiddle - aimed at helping audiences across the U.S. and around the world see themselves, their families, schools and communities in powerful new ways and ensuring that no one, particularly youth, faces harassment, discrimination or violence because they don’t conform to society’s traditional gender norms.

Produced by Pacific Islanders in Communications, ITVS, and Emmy-winning directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, the film traces Kumu Hinaʻs evolution from Collin Wong, a timid high school boy, to her present position as a married woman and cultural director of a school in one of Honoluluʻs grittier neighborhoods.

When Hoʻonani, a charismatic 6th grade girl, asks to join the schoolʻs all-male hula troupe, Hina gives her the opportunity to express her inner male spirit.  As teacher and student prepare for a climactic end-of-year performance, they meet many obstacles, but hold fast to the idea that being true to oneself matters most.

"The film shows why kids like Hoʻonani, and teachers like Hina, should be cherished and admired, not harassed and disrespected," said Hamer.

"Their story will be an inspiration for the world," added Wilson.

The film also delves into Hinaʻs pursuit of a dream of her own; a fulfilling romantic relationship.  Her marriage to a headstrong Tongan man, and the challenges they encounter, offer a glimpse of a Hawaii never before seen on film, and hopeful insights about the universal quest for love and acceptance.

"This amazing film allows audiences an intimate and refreshing view of Pacific Island life and culture through iconic Hawaiian leader, Hina Wong-Kalu," said Leanne Ferrer, director of Pacific Islanders in Communications.  "I know that KUMU HINA will inspire and bring understanding and enlightenment to all who view it."

The film is being released as Hinaʻs star is on the rise.  In addition to her high cultural profile as Chair of the Oahu Island Burial Council, she just announced her candidacy for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, making her among the first openly-transgender candidates to run for a statewide political office in the United States.

 This very special Honolulu premiere will be the hometown send-off for KUMU HINA as the film embarks on a campaign to spread a message of cultural preservation, empowerment, and gender diversity across the U.S. and around the world.  The campaign will be focused on festival, community and educational screenings, complemented by national PBS broadcast in 2015.

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Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and a young girl can rise to become a leader among men. Welcome to Kumu Hinaʻs Hawaii, where thereʻs a #APlaceintheMiddle for all.

CONTACT:

Joe Wilson, Qwaves Media
t: 808-629-9864  e: QwavesJoe@yahoo.com

"Kumu Hina" Directors Statement

by Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson - April 7, 2014:

We met Hina in early 2011 and were immediately captivated by her presence.  Physically large, and covered in striking tattoos, she is easily identifiable to most as a transgender Polynesian woman.  But rather than being cast as an outsider, as would likely be the case if we were in the continental United States or most other places, Hina is an important and respected person in her home town of Honolulu and throughout Hawai‘i.

She is a graduate of the elite Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawaiʻi’s Center for Hawaiian Studies. She serves as Director of Culture at an innovative public charter school and, by appointment of the governor, as chair of a state commission overseeing the protection of Native Hawaiian ancestral remains.  

When out on the streets of Honolulu, people call out and wave to their Kumu, or teacher, Hina as she is affectionately known, respecting her for the leadership she provides in educating their children and for being a steadfastly Hawaiian voice on important issues of the day.

But what most compelled us to grab our cameras and begin to follow Hina as the central character of a new film was her brief mention of an upcoming trip to Fiji to pick-up her Tongan husband, a man she had married a year earlier but had to leave waiting while she returned to Hawai’i to get his immigration papers in order.  We imagined that the trials and tribulations of this unusual Pacific Islander couple navigating the most universal terrain of the human experience – romantic love and marriage - would be fascinating, entertaining, revelatory.

And indeed it has.  We were fortunate that Hina and her husband granted us intimate access to every detail of their life together, from the highest of their highs to the lowest of their lows, allowing us to capture the emotional angst of two people who just want, in Hinaʻs words, “someone to care for, and love us, someone to accept us, and someone to give us the aloha that we seek.”

While this journey through love and heartbreak has been powerful, it is another, unexpected, story that emerged during the year we spent following Hina that transformed our vision and hopes for this film.

As a teacher at Hālau Lōkahi, a Hawaiian values-based public charter school, Hina spends months preparing her students for a big end-of-year performance at which the community will see how well they have studied and mastered their culture and its practices.  Such knowledge does not come easy to many in the gritty communities where most of Hina’s students live, and the daily struggles of their families are yet another barrier to their ability to focus on education.

But this year was special.  We were filming Hina daily while she worked with a group of high school boys who just didn’t seem to get the essence of the masculine hula she was teaching them.  Nothing seemed to work.  Nothing, that is, until the day that Ho‘onani walked in the door and asked if she could join the troupe.

Ho‘onani is a sixth grade girl who is very comfortable in her own very tomboyish skin.  Her friends nonchalantly say Ho‘o’s a mixture of a girl and a boy and that it’s no big deal, so Hina was not surprised when she said she wanted to join the boys.

For a brief moment, Hina wondered if it would upset parents or other teachers if she let Ho‘o dance with the boys.  But she knew there’d be no holding Ho‘o back, and that it was just such limited thinking, brought to Hawai‘i by missionaries nearly two hundred years ago, that made it so difficult for her to make her own transition from boy to girl back when she was in high school.

Perhaps as a result of those painful experiences, Hina has made great effort to create a school environment where all kids are welcome and feel like they belong.  Based on ancient Hawaiian values, and traditional respect for māhū - those who embrace both the feminine and masculine traits that are embodied in each one of us - Hina has created a special “place in the middle” for students who might be marginalized and mistreated elsewhere.

Ho‘onani thrives in that place in the middle.

Coming from the continental U.S. - where our previous film, the Emmy Award-winning “Out In The Silence,” introduced us to the lingering anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination in rural and small town America – and where openly-transgender teachers are few and far between, let alone respected, and where the idea of embracing and dignifying gender nonconforming kids is almost unimaginable, we were stunned and inspired by what was unfolding right before our eyes.

So we let the cameras roll, following Hina and Ho‘onani on their extraordinary journeys, through the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of the school year and the personal quests that they each had for their lives.  Their stories became powerfully symbolic of the hopes and dreams that all people have, and an inspiring glimpse of how being true to oneʻs culture and oneself can be the key to overcoming lifeʻs biggest challenges.

Now, as we prepare the film for its official launch, we are certain that these magical stories from Hawai‘i will capture the imagination of audiences around the world, opening up new possibilities toward inclusion, acceptance and respect for all, no matter the place one calls home.

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"Kumu Hina" on Hawaii Public Radio

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- April 3, 2014:

We pride ourselves, here in Hawai’i, on our tolerance.   Whether or not you call it “the aloha spirit,” there’s no denying that the islands have a far more widespread acceptance of alternate lifestyles… much of it rooted in Pacific Island culture.  As the country moves toward tolerance, however gradually, it might have something to learn from a new documentary feature film, Kumu Hina, whose director, Joe Wilson, joined the show to talk about it." — Chris Vandercook, host of The Conversation on Hawai’i Public Radio

Listen to the conversation HERE:

Film on Transgender ‘Kumu’ Set for April World Premiere

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by Mike Gordon, March 23, 2014:

When films have focused on issues facing transgender individuals, they often told stories filled with discrimination, violence and disrespect.

Filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson were familiar with that, having explored the LGBT community in rural America in their film “Out in the Silence.”

But then they met Hina Wong-Kalu, a Hawaiian māhū, or transgender woman, who is known more for her role as a teacher, community leader and cultural practitioner than for a label attached to her name. In Wong-Kalu they saw a story of acceptance that could happen only in Hawaii.

The result is their new documentary “Kumu Hina.”

For a year, Hamer and Wilson were given unlimited access to Wong-Kalu’s life, including her new marriage to a Tongan man. The filmmakers envisioned the trials and tribulations of an unusual Polynesian couple dealing with the most universal of human emotions.

"It’s a dramatic story of life and love in Hawai‘i that no one has ever seen on film before," Wilson said. "When we met Hina our view changed about what kind of world was possible. We thought Hina’s life and the way things played out here in Hawaii as a potential model to share with the rest of the world."

Hamer and Wilson were coming off two years on the road with “Out in the Silence” when they met Wong-Kalu.

"We were immediately captivated by her presence and also who she is and how she lived her life," Wilson said. "We were stunned by the difference between Hawaii and the continental U.S. in terms of acceptance and inclusion of an openly transgender woman. She is a community leader, an empowered person who is a prominent teacher."

Wong-Kalu, a 41-year-old Kame­ha­meha Schools graduate who lives in upper Nu‘u­anu, is cultural director at Hālau Lōkahi, a public charter school that incorporates Hawaiian culture and history into the curriculum. She’s also chairwoman of the O‘ahu Island Burial Council, which oversees Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains.

"Have you ever heard of an open transgender woman teaching?" Wilson said. "It’s almost unimaginable."

The film so impressed organizers of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival that they picked “Kumu Hina” as the closing-night selection of their 15th annual Spring Showcase. The April 10 screening at the Hawai‘i Theatre will be the film’s world premiere. Afterward the filmmakers want to screen it at festivals and then plan to air it on PBS in 2015.

Wong-Kalu, who is pleased with the film, said she doesn’t want to be viewed as different or special.

"I want to be someone who is acknowledged as Hina, as myself," she said. "I feel it is more important for people to be acknowledged by their name and the merits of their name rather than something like ‘transgender.’"

In agreeing to have the most personal moments of her life documented, Wong-Kalu sought to promote compassion as well as understanding.

"It was an opportunity to say to the world that people who are māhū have a great many of contributions to our community and our families and our circles," she said. "I am no different — no better, no worse. I am just a normal person."

If that is the heart of the story Hamer and Wilson told, then Wong-Kalu is undeniably the soul. The filmmakers viewed her philosophy as extremely important, especially against an overwhelming backdrop of negative media images.

"What we also need to see are the positive reflections of the lives of transgender people so we know them as full human beings who are members of our families and communities," Wilson said. "When we met Hina and saw she was a great symbol of this, we thought it was extremely important to share her story."

For ticket information and a trailer for “Kumu Hina,” as well as the full Spring Showcase schedule, go to HIFF.org.

AND that’s a wrap …

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser’s film and television writer. Read his Outtakes Online blog at honolulupulse.com.

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Hina Wong-Kalu, far right, performs with her students at Halau Lokahi, a public charter school that incorporates Hawaiian culture and history into the curriculum

Contact the filmmakers at: QwavesJoe@yahoo.com

Honolulu Premiere - Hawaiʻi Theatre - April 10

Aloha Mai Kākou: Please Join Us For This Special Honolulu Event

KUMU HINA, a powerful new film from Pacific Islanders in Communications about the struggle to maintain traditional culture and values within the Westernized society of modern Honolulu, will be the Closing Night Film in the Hawaiʻi International Film Festivalʻs Spring Showcase — Thurs., April 10 at the Hawaiʻi Theatre. 

The filmʻs entertaining stories are told through the voice of Hina Wong-Kalu, a remarkable native Hawaiian mahu, or transgender, teacher who inspires a young girl to claim her place as leader of the schoolʻs all-male hula troupe as she searches for love and a fulfilling romantic relationship in her own life. 
As Hinaʻs arduous journey unfolds, her Hawaiian roots and values give her the strength and wisdom to persevere, offering viewers a profound new glimpse of island life and a deeper understanding of the true meaning of aloha.
 
This very special event will be the hometown send-off for KUMU HINA as the film embarks on a tour to spread a message of cultural preservation, empowerment, and inclusion across the U.S. and around the world.

We hope you can make it, and that youʻll help spread the word too.  Mahalo piha!

Tickets available March 20 — $8 (HIFF Members), $10 (Students/Seniors), $12 (General Public). Doors open at 6:30pm. More info at HIFF.org.

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I LOVE ʻKumu Hina.ʻ Itʻs a fascinating and human love story, and a side of Hawaiʻi that no one has ever seen on film.

- Chris Lee, former head Columbia/Tristar Pictures

"Kumu Hina: A Woman of the People" - on the Cover of eXpression Magazine

March 1, 2014:

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Kumu Hina Featured in Mana Magazine’s “Beyond the Binary: Portraits of Gender and Sexual Identities in the Hawaiian Community”

Mana Magazine, February 6, 2014

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MANA MAGAZINE HERE

Kumu Hina Speaks in State Capitol for Hawaiian Affairs Caucus Week

January 29, 2014:

Hawaii Republican Group Bashes Kumu Hina

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January 14, 2014:

It’s not surprising that Hawai’i Republicans dipped into some culture bashing in their most recent rhetoric.

Basically the story concerns the curriculum developed by the Hawaii Department of Education and the University of Hawai’i to combat teen pregnancy and STI transmission by giving the young people there accurate information in order to make informed choices about their sexual health. The name for the program is Pono Choices.  A rough english translation of the concept Pono is “righteousness,” but with deeper culturally and spiritual connotations involving living in harmony, balance, and unity.

The core concept is that it is not who you are that puts you at risk; it is what you do.

Republicans Sam Slom and Bob McDermott slammed the program because it “robbed children of their innocence” even though they have refused to participate in an orientation session and so know little about it.

The Department of Education reviewed the program and concluded:

Our review not only affirmed that the curriculum meets department standards, but it also showed that Pono Choices is a culturally responsive curriculum that has resulted in positive outcomes for students … [such as] more youth abstaining from sex and less teen pregnancy and STI transmission.

So, like always seems to happen when these folks lose, they turned to personal attacks.  Their two main targets are transgender people.  Kim Coco Iwamoto is the commissioner of the Hawai’i Civil Rights Commission, a transgender woman who served two previous terms on the Hawai’i Board of Education.  But the more direct target has been Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a Native Hawaiian teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader who is māhū, the native Hawaiian traditional transgender identity.  Mrs. Wong-Kalu chairs the O’ahu Island Burial Council, among other responsibilities and often opens important Hawaiian events with Native Hawaiian chants.   She is affectionately known as Kumu Hina by her students.

She appears briefly in one of the video episodes included in the program.

In an attack piece by Tito Montes of the Hawaii Republican Assembly, Mrs. Wong-Kalu is referred to as “him.” despite evidence to the contrary and having legal status as a married woman.  She is referred to as a “transvestite drag queen.”

Ironically, the take-home message from the video is hardly controversial: You get HIV from not being safe.  But the language from the Republican Assembly makes it clear that their real concern has nothing to do with sex education.  What they hate is the very existence of LGBT people.

Definitely not pono.

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Equality Hawaii Condemns Tea Party Attack on Kumu Hina

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'Kumu Hina' Film Will Give Vast Exposure to Māhū of Hawai‘i for First Time

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by Wayne Harada - Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Aug. 27, 2013:

“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, or transgender, culture commonly accepted 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 filmmakers 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 Communications, 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 includes co-producer Connie M. Florez, musical score composer Makana, and writer-narraor Leonelle Akana.

Kumu Hina Announces Bid for Seat on Board of Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2014

Dec. 2, 2013: Today, Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu announced her bid to serve as a Trustee on the Board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a semi-autonomous entity of the state of Hawai’i charged with the administration of 1.8 million acres of royal land held in trust for the benefit of native Hawaiians.  Created by the 1978 Hawai’i State Constitutional Convention, native Hawaiians were given the right for the first time through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to make their own decisions as to investment of ceded lands and the collection of revenue generated by those lands to fund programs for the people. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is considered the most influential arm of the larger Hawaiian sovereignty movement  that inspired its creation.

Kumu Hina’s statement:

"Aloha mai kakou to friends and family.

It is with a very humble heart and great honor to proceed forward with my desire to serve our Hawaiian community by aspiring to the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I believe that by serving our Hawaiian community and working towards empowering our native people that we can help to create a healthier Hawai’i for not only our Kanaka Maoli but also our Poe Malihini.

Once again I look forward to securing your confidence in me to be a leader for our Hawaiian community in a way to even more so impact us in positive and productive ways for a pono and bright Hawai’i.

Aloha nui to all of you and mahalo for supporting me.”

What Does ‘Traditional Marriage’ Mean in Hawai’i? (VIDEO)

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by Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson, Directors of KUMU HINA - Nov. 18, 2013:

Over the past few weeks the opponents of marriage equality in Hawai’i have repeatedly and vociferously claimed that they support “traditional marriage,” meaning a union of one man and one woman, and that the “gay lifestyle” is a Western import.

Really?

As State Sen. Gilbert Kahele, a native Hawaiian from Miloli’i on the Island of Hawai’i, recalled in a remarkable speech in support of the marriage equality bill that was then being discussed in a special legislative session, same-sex relationships between both men and women were not only accepted in Hawai’i but “part of the very fabric of Hawaiian history.”

Indeed, the ship journals of Captain Cook, the first European to arrive in Hawai’i, recorded that all the kings of the islands had aikāne, or same-sex partners, and that chief Kalanikoa of Kaua’i even asked if one of the European sailors would become his lover — an honor for which he offered to pay six pigs. And when the great King Kamehameha, uniter of all Hawai’i, boarded Cookʻs ship, he brought aboard his aikāne, leaving his wives at home.

The “T” in LGBT also has its place in Hawaiian history: the māhū, or those blessed with both male and female characteristics. If you visit Waikiki Beach, make sure to stop by the healing stones of Kapaemahu, four basalt boulders that carry the mana, or healing powers, brought by māhū soothsayers who traveled here from Tahiti many centuries ago.

And so it was only right and fitting that the governor’s signing ceremony for the Hawai’i marriage equality act started off with a beautiful oli (chant) by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, or “Kumu Hina,” a native Hawaiian teacher and cultural expert who also just happens to be māhūwahine (a transgender woman).

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While you might expect an ancient, traditional chant in such a setting, youʻll soon recognize that it is an original composition, making specific reference to aikāne and māhū, words that audience members recognized immediately.

That’s what is so wonderful about Hawai’i. Despite 200 years of colonization and repression, the ancient traditions and beliefs live on and are incorporated into modern institutions and everyday life.

So it will be with marriage as the state embraces the true traditional spirit of aloha — unconditional acceptance and respect for all — even as it continues to struggle with troublesome Western imports such as religion-based discrimination.