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A Transgender Teacher in Hawai'i Inspires a Global Campaign

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At a time when transgender and gender-nonconforming people the world over face harassment, violence, discrimination and even murder, we are excited to be launching a new film-based campaign from Hawai'i that takes a fresh approach to making the world more just and inclusive.

The film, Kumu Hina (meaning "Teacher Hina"), tells the inspiring story of Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who brings to life Hawaiiʻs traditional embrace of mahu -- those who embody both male and female spirit.  The film will have its world premiere as the closing-night film at the Hawaii International Film Festival on April 10 in Honoluluʻs historic, 1,400-seat Hawaii Theatre. 

The sold-out show will be the launch of a global campaign for gender diversity (#APlaceInTheMiddle) aimed at helping audiences across the U.S. and around the world see themselves and their families, schools and communities in a new light and ensuring that no one, particularly youth, faces harassment, discrimination or violence because they don't conform to society's traditional view of gender norms.

Produced with the support of Pacific Islanders in Communications and ITVS, the film traces Kumu Hinaʻs evolution from Collin Wong, a timid high-school boy, to her present position as a married woman and cultural director of a Hawaiian charter school in one of Honoluluʻs grittier neighborhoods.

When Hoʻonani, a charismatic sixth-grade girl, asks to join the schoolʻs all-male hula troupe, Hina gives her the opportunity to express her inner male spirit.  As teacher and student prepare for a climactic end-of-year performance, they meet many obstacles but hold fast to the idea that being true to oneself is what matters most.

The film also delves into Hinaʻs pursuit of a dream of her own: a fulfilling romantic relationship.  Her marriage to a headstrong Tongan man, and the challenges they encounter, offer a glimpse of a Hawai'i never before seen on film, and hopeful insights about the universal quest for love and acceptance.

Leanne Ferrer, director of Pacific Islanders in Communications, a public television organization that supports Pacific Island media content and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history, culture, and contemporary challenges, said:

This amazing film allows audiences a bold and refreshing view of Pacific Island life through iconic Hawaiian leader, Hina Wong-Kalu. I know that Kumu Hina will inspire and bring understanding and enlightenment to all who view it.

The film is being released as Hinaʻs star is on the rise.  In addition to her high cultural profile as Chair of the Oʻahu Island Burial Council, she just announced her candidacy for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, making her among the first openly transgender candidates to run for a statewide political office in the United States.

This very special Honolulu premiere will be the hometown send-off for Kumu Hina as the film embarks on a tour to spread a message of cultural preservation, empowerment, and gender diversity and inclusion across the U.S. and around the world.  The campaign will be focused on festival, community and educational screenings, complemented by national PBS broadcast in 2015.