Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu was not always known as “Kumu Hina.” Hina, born a male, is a transgendered Kumu Hula (Teacher/Master of Hula) in Hawaii. The documentary follows Kumu Hina, her Halau in Hawaii, and a very special student of hers, Ho’onani.
The film, first explains the Hawaiian term, “Mahu,” which translates to “in the middle.” A “Mahu” is a person that identifies with both female and male characteristics. “Mahu” were once known as the care -givers and were well respected within their communities. After the missionaries arrived, “Mahu” were given a negative connotation. The exceptional animation in the film gives a quick overview of a piece of Hawaiian history.
Following Kumu Hina at her Halau (Hula school), and interviewing her students, the film gives incite on the way this particular community of Hawaiians perceive “Mahu.” While Kumu Hina’s story is both intriguing and inspiring, perhaps my favorite part of the film was Kumu Hina’s student Ho’onani.
Ho’onani is an eleven-year-old student, who sees herself as “in the middle.” Ho’onani, born a female, aspires to dance Hula with the boys. In her journey, Ho’onani finds that she has within her, the spirit to lead the high school boys in a Hula chant.
Kumu Hina said she was teased in high school for being “too girly,” but that she “found refuge in being Hawaiian.” Because the film interviews people in Kumu Hina’s community, the audience can get a sense of how Hina feels accepted in her native land.
Although an overall inspiring and uplifting story, the depiction of Kumu Hina’s relationship with Tongan husband, Hema, is confusing and lacks authenticity. The relationship itself may be genuine, but the film does not portray this.
Overall, the film has a great message in accepting and embracing oneself to the fullest. Kumu Hina and Ho’onani are inspiring human beings and their story, worth telling.
If you are attending AAIFF 2014 in New York, you can catch Kumu Hina at the festival on July 27. For more information, visit, aaiff.org.