Kumu Hina

May 04, 2015

by

Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson

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About the Documentary

Kumu Hina is the story of Hina Wong- Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who brings to life Hawaii’s long-held embrace of mahu — those who embody both male and female spirit, and were traditionally respected as caretakers, healers, and keepers of ancient traditions.

The film traces Hina’s evolution from a timid high school boy to her position as a married woman and cultural director of a school that specializes in Hawaiian language, history and culture, located in one of Honolulu’s grittier neighborhoods. As she contemplates who should lead the school’s all-male hula troupe in their final performance, a surprising candidate presents herself: Ho’onani, a sixth grader who is proud to be seen as a mixture of boy and girl. As Kumu Hina helps Ho’onani negotiate the mixed reactions of her classmates and her family, the power of culture to instill a sense of pride and acceptance becomes clear.

The film also delves into Hina’s pursuit of a dream of her own: a fulfilling romantic relationship. Her tumultuous marriage to a headstrong Tongan man offers insight into the universal challenge of loving somebody outside the norm and a deeper understanding of the true meaning of aloha – love, honor, and respect for all.

The Filmmakers

Dean Hamer

Dean Hamer is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, The New York Times Book of the Year author, and National Institutes of Health scientist with a long history in communicating complex and controversial ideas to a diverse public. He formed Qwaves with partner Joe Wilson to produce insightful and provocative documentaries about often overlooked social issues. Their short films were part of the pioneering days of citizen-generated content on the Internet and cable television, and have been used as outreach and educational tools by a wide range of community and education organizations. Out in the Silence, the first feature film from Qwaves, premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center, and with support from the Sundance Documentary Film program and Pennsylvania Public Television Network, it was widely distributed through PBS, multiple digital portals, and hundreds of community screenings.

In addition to his film work, Hamer is the author of several bestselling nonfiction books, a consultant for the BBC and Discovery Channel, and a sought-after lecturer and frequent guest on TV documentaries and news shows. He lives with his partner Joe Wilson on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, where they moved to pursue the making of Kumu Hina.

Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson got involved in documentary filmmaking through his social activism on human rights issues. Frustrated by the limitations of traditional organizing and advocacy, he picked up a camera with hopes of reaching broader audiences with stories that would inform and compel people to act. Together with Qwaves co-founder Dean Hamer, his films on controversial and often ignored human rights issues have won awards and official selection at more than 100 film festivals around the country and the world, and received widespread attention for their role in promoting social change.

In 2004, Wilson returned to his small hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania, to direct and produce the Sundance-supported, Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Out in the Silence. Through more than 700 grassroots screenings across the country, this film has become part of a national movement to open dialogue, counter school bullying, and support fairness and equality for all in small towns and rural communities. The Out in the Silence Award for Youth Activism, established in 2011, is continuing the campaign beyond the immediate life of the film by honoring courageous and unheralded young people who are leading the way in making schools and communities safe from bullying and welcoming for all, especially in places where silence and invisibility have rendered LGBT youth and their allies marginalized and powerless for far too long. Wilson lives with his partner Dean Hamer on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

Full Credits

Awards

  • 2015 Independent Lens

    Audience Award

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Join the Discussion

Is Hawaii unique in its acceptance of transgender identity? How has your community handled and responded to transgender people? What surprised you or upset your expectations in this story?

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