( San Francisco ) - At a time when transgender and gender nonconforming people across the U.S. and around the world have achieved unprecedented visibility in popular culture, but continue to suffer extreme violence, harassment, discrimination, and isolation, Independent Lens presents Kumu Hina,
a moving film from Hawaii that offers a bold new perspective on gender diversity and inclusion through cultural empowerment. Directed and produced by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, Kumu Hina premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 4, 2015, 10:00-11:00 PM ET ( check local listings ) as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month programming on PBS.
Kumu Hina is the inspiring story of Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who brings to life Hawaii's traditional embrace of mahu — those who embody both male and female spirit. 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 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 to 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 Hinaʻs 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 glimpse of Hawaii never before seen on film.
"This film introduces us to an unforgettable and courageous woman whose life is simultaneously grounded in ancient tradition and on the forefront of one the most contemporary movements in society today," said Lois Vossen, founding and deputy executive producer of Independent Lens. "Gender fluidity is a concept that has been understood for thousands of years in Polynesian culture, but is only now beginning to be accepted in the West. Kumu Hina teaches us all how to love and accept ourselves as we are."
Hamer and Wilson wanted to break new ground with this film project by focusing on the abilities, accomplishments, and contributions of a transgender woman rather than on the prejudice and hostility she has faced. "Kumu Hina portrays a world where instead of transgender people being marginalized because of who they are, they are actually visible, honored, and included," said the filmmakers. "A world where youth who are searching for their own creative forms of gender expression are embraced and encouraged to be themselves rather than to hide in fear or pretend they are just like everyone one else."
In conjunction with the national broadcast premiere, the film team is launching an education campaign that includes a special children's version of the film, distributed for free on PBS LearningMedia, PBS's destination for educators and students. The film tells Ho'onani's story through her own words and colorful animation. "Young people deserve to see a school where everyone is accepted and included," said Kumu Hina. "That's why it's so important to also have this short video, A Place in the Middle, that kids as well as teachers and parents will enjoy watching."
Visit the Kumu Hina companion website ( www.pbs.org/kumu-hina/ ), which features information about the film including an interview with the filmmakers, preview clips, and a discussion guide, plus links to A Place in the Middle, and how viewers can make their schools and communities more welcoming and inclusive by taking a #PledgeofAloha.
About Independent Lens
Independent Lens is an Emmy® Award-winning weekly series airing on PBS Monday nights at 10:00 PM. The acclaimed series features documentaries united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement, and unflinching visions of independent filmmakers. Presented by Independent Television Service, the series is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding from PBS and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For more visit pbs.org/independentlens. Join the conversation: facebook.com/independentlens on Twitter @IndependentLens.