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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: Kumu Hina

Kumu Hina (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu), hula teacher and cultural director of Hālau Lōkahi Public Charter School.
Courtesy of Qwaves, LLC
Kumu Hina (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu), hula teacher and cultural director of Hālau Lōkahi Public Charter School.

Airs Monday, May 4, 2015 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

This acclaimed Emmy Award-winning anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. INDEPENDENT LENS features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history. The series is supported by interactive companion web sites and national publicity and community engagement campaigns.

Hoʻonani Kamai, 6th grade student who becomes the leader of the boys hula group.
Courtesy of Qwaves, LLC
Hoʻonani Kamai, 6th grade student who becomes the leader of the boys hula group.
Hina shares a kiss with her husband Haema.
Courtesy of Dean Hamer
Hina shares a kiss with her husband Haema.
Kumu Hina and her students sing one of her compositions.
Courtesy of Qwaves, LLC
Kumu Hina and her students sing one of her compositions.
Hoʻonani leads the boys in a performance of ʻai ka mūmū kēkē, a chant & hula about overcoming adversity.
Courtesy of Qwaves, LLC
Hoʻonani leads the boys in a performance of ʻai ka mūmū kēkē, a chant & hula about overcoming adversity.

The Sounds of Aloha: Hawaiian Music Playlist

Listen to this playlist of some of the greatest Hawaiian music ever recorded, from Hula to slack guitar, ukulele, and beyond, compiled via Spotify. (Requires the Spotify application, available free to download).

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, 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.”

"Kumu Hina" is on Facebook, and you can follow @KumuHina on Twitter.

Past episodes of INDEPENDENT LENS are available for online viewing. INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter.