Leitis in Waiting

Director: Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson & Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
2018 | USA, Tonga | 72m
GENRE: Asian/Pacific Islander | Documentary | Gender | Male-to-Female | Native American/Indigenous | Transgender
SECTION: Documentary | Showcase
Expected Guests: Directors, Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson, Subject, Joey Mataele, Editor, Bill Weber


The last remaining kingdom in the South Pacific, the island nation of Tonga has long been home to a vibrant and creative community of transgender women known as leitis, who have a proud history of dedicated service to the royal family. But while Tonga may be the only South Pacific island never to have been colonized, it has hardly escaped the influence of Western ideologies and bigotry, which now threaten the leitis’ role in Tongan culture and society—as well as their livelihoods and very lives.

In this poignant, character-driven documentary (created by the same team who collaborated on Kumu Hina, Frameline38), our leading leiti is the confident and dignified Joey Joeleen Mataele, an outspoken activist and mentor with deep familial ties to the monarchy. Mataele elegantly guides us through the many abuses and challenges that she and her fellow leitis now face from a newly emboldened faction of U.S.-led Christian fundamentalists who are determined to make it illegal to be openly gay or transgender, despite deeply rooted support for the leitis from the royal family itself. From her role as mistress of ceremonies for the glorious Miss Galaxy pageant to her work with the grassroots Tonga Leitis Association, Joey fiercely defends the rights of the leitis and all LGBTQ Tongans by encouraging direct dialogue with their vituperative opposition. It is a true portrait of pride and poise in an island paradise tainted by prejudice.


Leitis in Waiting is a Frameline Completion Fund recipient.

Bank of America, N.A.

Center for Asian American Media / APIQWTC Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community

  • Language: In English and Tongan with English subtitles
  • Premiere Status: Bay Area