Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian transgender woman from Nu’uanu on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. She is known for her work as a kumu (teacher), cultural preservationist and community leader. She was a founder of the Kulia Na Mamo Transgender Health Project, cultural director of the Hawaiian Public Charter School, and candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. She currently serves as the Chair of the O’ahu Island Burial Council and works with inmates at the Halawa Correctional Facility before they are integrated back into society.
Wong-Kalu is the subject of the feature documentary film Kumu Hina that covers a turbulent year in her life, as she continues to discover who she is in this vast world we all live in. She is faced with the daunting task of merging individual worlds, as she struggles to maintain her culture and values in the Westernized society of modern day Hawaii. She continues to inspire the upcoming keiki (children), as she takes a young female student, who tries to claim leadership in an all-male hula troupe, under her wing. Even though she’s seen much success as a teacher, like every woman, she longs for a loving and committed relationship. The film also documents her marriage with her strong Tongan husband. As this incredible docu-drama unfolds, it reveals a side of Hawaiian culture rarely seen.
In Hawaiian culture, the word “transgender” is loosely translated to “mahu,” which means “a place in the middle” or to live in the middle of gender binaries. To be mahu means to emulate both female and male qualities. Before Hawaii was overthrown, “Mahus” were revered and honored as healers, teachers and leaders, just asWong-Kalu is today.
Kumu Hina first premiered as the closing night film in the Hawaii International Film Festival in 2014 and won several awards on the festival circuit including Best Documentary. It was nationally broadcast on PBS where it won the Independent Lens Audience Award 2014-2015. It also took home the Outstanding Documentary GLAAD Media Award in 2016. It can currently be seen on Netflix. There is also an educational children’s version of the film called Kumu Hina: A Place in the Middle.
Today, she remains strong in the fight for equality for all transgender and non-gender conforming people of Hawaii. Although she remains rooted in her native culture, she understands that it’s essential to spread her knowledge and her story both far and wide.
You can catch Kumu Hina at the Sie Complex 1150, Home of The Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Wednesday, March 8 from 12-2 p.m. The documentary will be followed by a Skype Q&A session with Wong-Kalu herself. To learn more about the documentary please visit the official website. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.