ImageOut Rochester Review by Jennifer Morgan:
The inspiring documentary, Kumu Hina, introduces us to Hina Wong-Kalu, a native Hawaiian transgender woman embracing her cultural heritage in contemporary Honolulu as a respected teacher (or “kumu”), an active cultural council member, and a newlywed.
A beautifully animated prologue by Jared Greenleaf introduces us to the māhū tradition, and directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (ImageOut 2009’s Out in the Silence) offer insight into Hawaiian history and culture while integrating several facets of Hina’s life with the native dance and music so dear to her.
Among the students at the Hālau Lōkahi public charter school, where Hina teaches native Hawaiian studies, we meet Ho’onani, a young tomboy who longs to lead the boys’ hula troupe in her school’s end-of-year pageant.
The compassion, support, and gentle respect that Hina brings to her students are evident throughout the film, exposing an especially rich aspect of her life and gifts as a teacher.
On assignment as a traditional burial council member, Hina oversees the respectful handling and care of native burials that may be disturbed as work on a new rail system progresses. She carefully inspects the advancing excavation and liaises between the native council, foreman, and work crews.
We share Hina’s joyful reunion with Hema, a young Tongan from Fiji still adjusting to his new life in Hawaii, and as their marriage unfolds we witness the ups and downs that come with any relationship as it enters a new phase.
Striking a balance by living an authentic life in a paradisiacal land, Hina’s story is one of deep inner grace, uplifting beauty, and self-empowerment.
Without ignoring the differences between traditional and contemporary attitudes, she molds a life full of dignity, humility, and true inner joy.