Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu or "Kumu Hina", as her students call her, lives and works on The Big Island, Hawai'i as the cultural director for the Hlau Lkahi Public Charter School. She teaches the children hula (chant and dance), culture and, most importantly, the necessity of living the spirit of aloha. Kumu Hina is also a warrior for tradition on the O'ahu Island Burial Council. There she ensures that Hawai'ian ancestors are respected as Western society develops on Hawai'ian soil. She is a wife and a role model. Kumu Hina is also mh. She is a transgendered woman.
Hundreds of years ago, around 1830 Congregational missionaries invaded the Hawai'ian isles to bring to them the teachings Christ. They taught the natives that their cultural and religious traditions went against God's will. Chant and dance were condemned. The mh, caretakers, healers and teacher of both masculine and feminine gender, were also condemned. The mh went into hiding and protected the native traditions until it was safe to revive them. Kumu Hina is has dedicated her life to reversing hundreds of years of racism by teaching hula and living pono (roughly translated to mean 'beneficially righteous'). Her work empowers a younger generation to accept the mh and to give Hawai'ian culture new life.
This documentary gives light to the positive and negative aspects of Kumu Hina's life. It is an intimate look at ups and downs of her marriage to Haemaccelo Kalu, her work with student Hoonani Kamai, who identifies as a "middle person," and her life as as mh. Kumu Hina discusses her difficult transition and the solace she found through tradition. The viewer is treated to clips of her exquisite formal and informal performances. She is a powerful performer with a clear, strong voice. The resilience she uses to teach comes from the strength she has needed to remain a vigilant woman.
An important message of "Kumu Hina" is to embrace LGBTQ+ cross-cultural awareness. The documentary team runs the A Place in the Middle Campaign to "to spread a message of cultural preservation, empowerment, and gender diversity and inclusion across the U.S. and around the world. The aim of the campaign is to help audiences see themselves, their families, schools and communities in powerful new ways and ensure that no one, particularly youth, faces harassment, discrimination or violence because they don't conform to society's traditional view of gender norms." It is just one of the many valuable takeaways from this film.
This article is part of our "Cinema Diverse! Palm Springs 2014" series. Want to read more?
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