Kumu Hina

2014 | Arts & Literature / Documentary / Race and Culture / Representation / Transgender | 74m | USA
Directors: Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson

Kumu Hina is a powerful film about the struggle to maintain Pacific Islander culture and values within the westernized society of modern day Hawai’i. It is told through the lens of an extraordinary Native Hawaiian woman who is both a proud and confident mahu, or transgender person, and an honored and respected kumu, or teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader.

Hinaleimoana Wong Kalu is the charismatic hula teacher of a public charter school dedicated to native Hawaiian culture. As she prepares her male high school students for a year-end dance and song performance, they’re lazy and uninspired—except for Ho’onani, a sixth-grade tomboy with an abundance of kû, or male energy, who insists on joining the boys. Like her teacher Kalu, Ho’onani is “in the middle,” and her potential special status as a mahu endows her with healing, teaching, and leadership powers that have been suppressed by 200 years of colonization and violence. Kalu’s dedication as a cultural leader is sorely tested by her relationship with her younger husband, who loves to drink kava root, expresses his love through jealousy, and needs Hina’s advice simply when he misses his bus for work. At a time when gender-nonconforming people are marginalized and mistreated the world over, Kalu has devoted her life to helping everybody around her be best they can be through native Hawaiian values. But while those values preach unconditional love, honor, and respect for all—the true meaning of aloha, embodied in graceful dance and song—Kalu is challenged in all facets of her life.

Emmy™ Award–winning filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (Out in the Silence) paint an inspiring portrait of a beautifully strong and wise teacher who is shaping young hearts and minds to ensure that there is a place “in the middle” for all.

This film comes with a discussion guide that can be accessed online. Click here to download the discussion guide.

Frameline distributes this title for educational sales. For home video purchase, rentals, and other inquiries, please visit the Kumu Hina film website.

Reviews and Awards

Frameline38 Achievement in Documentary, San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival

Special Jury Selection, San Diego Asian Film Festival

Youth Jury Award, Rhode Island International Film Festival

Audience Choice Award, Asian American International Film Festival