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Out Takes spotlight: Kumu Hina

Thu 29 May 2014 In: Movies View at Wayback View at NDHA

Filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson discuss their Kumu Hina, which 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 has already screened in Auckland, but will continue its Out Takes Festival run in Wellington on June 4. Buy tickets here What inspired you to make Kumu Hina? We met Hina as we were finishing a two-year campaign for fairness and equality for LGBT people across rural and small town America. The campaign was based on our film ʻOut In The Silence,ʻ which coincidentally, won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at NZʻs Out Takes Film Festival in 2010. We were immediately captivated by Hinaʻs presence as well as who she is and how she lived her life. And we were stunned by the differences between Hawaiʻi and the continental U.S. in terms of acceptance and inclusion of an openly transgender woman in the community. She is not just a prominent teacher, but also a highly-respected cultural and community leader. We knew that her story, and the way that things play out in Hawaiʻi, would be an inspiring vision to share with the world. How important is this film? And why? The film is important, first and foremost, because it presents, for the first time, Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, speaking about life, love, and gender and sexuality from their perspectives, through their voices and real-life experiences, without observation, commentary or analysis by outsiders. As Chris Lee, a Hawaiʻi native who is former head of Columbia TriStar Pictures put it: "KUMU HINA is a fascinating and universal love story that shows a side of Hawaiʻi that no one has ever seen on film before." Additionally, although there have been other high profile films about transgender and gender nonconforming people over the years, they have tended to focus on the prejudice, discrimination, and hostility that trans people face, rather than on their abilities and accomplishments. From Paris Is Burning to The Brandon Teena Story, from Two Spirits to Southern Comfort, viewers have been introduced again and again to the ways in which people with differing gender identities and expressions have been marginalized, excluded, bullied, beaten, raped, and killed. Kumu Hina turns this paradigm on its head by portraying a world that recognizes those who display both male and female characteristics as gifted and special. A world where transgender people are visible, included and honoured. 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 else. Are we telling enough of these types of stories? No, we are not. When was the last time you saw a film about a queer Pacific islander? Or a positive story about a trans person? There are many more such stories that need to be told, from places near and far, and they need to be lifted up and given opportunities for audiences to find and enjoy them. Did you learn anything memorable in the process of making the film? We learned something very profound -- what Hina calls in the film "the true meaning of aloha." And this nugget of Hawaiian cultural wisdom, that has the potential to transform individuals, families, institutions of every kind, and communities around the world, is why people need to see the film, and what has inspired us to create the global campaign for gender diversity and inclusion known as #APlaceintheMiddle. What have audience reactions been like so far? Audience reactions have been extraordinary. The premiere, in particular, was a phenomenal experience, with a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd of 1,500 people in Honoluluʻs most prestigious theatre, sitting on the edge of their seats, laughing, crying, erupting in applause in unison as KUMU HINAʻs stories unfolded. It was one of those rare moments when those who live much of their lives in the shadows, in silence, often in fear and isolation, were in the majority, together with families, friends and neighbours who knew that something special was unfolding in their midst, when one of their own was offering her story, with all its flaws, as a symbol of hope for those who donʻt have a voice. Honolulu is still buzzing about it, and additional screenings are in high demand in communities across the islands. It seems like something which would resonate well with New Zealand audiences, considering our strong Pasifika culture? Yes, with New Zealandersʻ deep understanding of and appreciation for Pasifika culture, we feel that audiences there will really ʻgetʻ Kumu Hina, and will feel particularly drawn to the amazing young girl she inspires to rise and claim her place as leader of their schoolʻs all-male hula troupe. We like to think of the film as a "real life Whale Rider." What do you hope audiences take from it? That Pacific Islanders have a wonderful way of dealing with gender that the whole world could learn from. We hope that audiences will see themselves in these stories from Hawaiʻi and join in the cause to make #APlaceintheMiddle for those who may be considered unwelcome outsiders in their own communities. Tell me more about the empowerment campaign? The film's emphasis on stories that illuminate positive understandings of cultural inclusion and gender fluidity make it a powerful tool for raising awareness of gender oppression and exclusion, and advancing the emerging global movement for transgender visibility, acceptance, and rights, particularly in schools. Our ambitions are to empower gender fluid youth and adults to reach their full potential; prompt educational institutions to be inclusive and respectful of all students; and help families, communities, policymakers and other leaders understand that gender nonconforming people have always been part of the human family and are deserving of full acceptance and equal treatment. We aim to find ways to pierce public consciousness with these empowering stories, opening up new opportunities for engaging audiences in the exploration of cultural and personal identity, belonging, participation, leadership, independence, love, struggle, and 'the true meaning of aloha,' especially in places not usually included in discussions on important issues of the day, let alone in a Hawaiian and/or Pacific Island context. Weʻll be launching a Kickstarter Campaign very soon to help raise funds to support these efforts, and we hope your readers will stay tuned and help spread the word!  Jacqui Stanford - 29th May 2014    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Thursday, 29th May 2014 - 11:51am

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