By Ben Gutierrez, Reporter - Hawaii News Now - April 13, 2017
A locally-produced and critically acclaimed PBS documentary on a Hawaiian transgender woman is now at the center of the debate over whether federal funding should be cut for public broadcasting.
President Donald Trump's proposed budget would zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS. The CPB budget request totals $446 million for fiscal year 2018.
Maryland Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican, cited the locally-produced documentary, "Kumu Hina," as one of the reasons why federal funding should be eliminated.
"I have to respond to people in my district who say, you know, given what 'Kumu Hina' is about, my district doesn't care of CPB produced that," Harris said at a March 28 House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington. "In fact, they would resent if I was publicly funding that."
"Kumu Hina" is about Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a locally prominent Native Hawaiian transgender woman who is a teacher and activist. The documentary was first shown on PBS Hawaii, and then nationally. Harris questions why public funding should be used for such a film.
"You know what? Just can't fund it any more," he said. "I can't explain to people in my district why CPB invested $302,000 in 'Kumu Hina.'"
"I find it quite interesting -- and somewhat amusing -- that a little face out in the Pacific Ocean was cited as as reason for a budget cut," Wong-Kalu said in response to the uproar. She said her friends and supporters are upset that the documentary has become a focal point in the debate.
"PBS is about empowering and enabling the nominalized, marginalized voices within the diversity of our community," she said.
"The response to 'Kumu Hina' here locally has been overwhelmingly positive," said Liberty Peralta, Vice President of Communications at PBS Hawaii. "We value being inclusive and sharing multiple points of view, and 'Kumu Hina' is just one of those stories that does that."
Kumu Hina herself is hoping PBS funding will survive the budget ax.
"That is very, very unfortunate. It's regrettable," she said. "I hope that it will actually not come to pass."