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PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Leitis in Waiting | Cover Story

Pacific Heartbeat's Leitis in Waiting. The May Program Guide cover story by Emily Bodfish

May 2019 program guide cover story by Emily Bodfish, PBS Hawai‘i

 

Now in its eighth season, the anthology series PACIFIC HEARTBEAT brings the authentic Pacific – people, cultures, languages, music and contemporary issues – to your screen. This new season brings stories of determination and courage from Australia, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Tonga and the U.S. The series is a production of Pacific Islanders in Communications in partnership with PBS Hawaiʻi, and is distributed nationally by American Public Television.

 

Among the films premiering this month is Leitis in Waiting, which tells the story of the Kingdom of Tonga’s evolving approach to gender fluidity through character-driven portraits of leitis, or indigenous transgender women. The most prominent leiti, Joey Joleen Mataele, is a practicing Catholic of noble descent who, over the course of an eventful year, organizes a beauty pageant, and later a conference with fundamentalist Christians to discuss the rise of the rhetoric of intolerance toward leitis.

 

Filmmakers Joe Wilson, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu and Dean HamerFilmmakers Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson and Hinaleimoana Wong-Kale – the subject of Hamer and Wilson’s earlier film Kumu Hina, which was also a film about gender fluidity that aired nationally on PBS – spoke with us about the film:

 

Could you give us some insight into your intentions with the film, the meaning of it for you and your audience?

 

Hamer: At first, we thought we would create a short film about the [beauty] pageant itself, which Hina won one year, by the way. While pursuing that, we realized we needed to make a feature length film on the leitis search for equality and recognition in their own country.

 

Wilson: We wanted our film to have an effect everywhere, but especially in Tonga. Our approach to filmmaking is to show, not tell, and let the viewers decide for themselves. That approach lends itself to the Tongan talanoa method of conflict resolution. You sit down with your opposition and try to come to a mutual understanding. Joey, the protagonist of the film, is currently using the film in that way as part of her advocacy.

 

Hina, you were instrumental in making the film because of your insider knowledge of the culture. Could you give some insight into those cultural differences some viewers might not understand, including the concept of the “usefulness” of the leitis?

 

Wong-Kalu: In Tonga, the royal family is held in utmost regard. They are synonymous with the nation itself, the flag, and the national seal “God and Tonga are my inheritance.”

 

On “usefulness,” the understanding in Polynesian culture is that your worth is not measured by how much you acquire, but rather by how much you sacrifice of yourself. The Tongan understanding of the word “useful” as it applies to people is different from in the west. When you hear people in the film say that the leitis are “useful,” it is praise for their service to others.

 

Wilson: At the same time, the frustrations that we tried to capture on film is the leitis’ struggle with something that marginalized communities struggle with everywhere. Whenever leitis, or anyone that has been relegated to a certain place, says, “I deserve more,” a backlash occurs.

 

What do you think the U.S. and Tonga can learn from each other?

 

Wong-Kalu: I would like to beg the question – why does Tonga have to learn anything from the U.S.? Tongans had a great way of embracing everyone in society. I want Tonga to be more discerning about what they import.

 

Hamer: One thing the U.S. can learn is that gender diversity has been around for centuries, and widely accepted in many parts of the world. The vast majority hid because the forces against them were so strong, but they were still there. It isn’t going to kill society if those people don’t hide anymore.

 


Leitis in Waiting

Saturday, May 25 at 8:00 pm

Click here to see PACIFIC HEARTBEAT SEASON 8 programming lineup and schedule

 

 

 

Changing Season:
On the Masumoto Family Farm

Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm

 

Review a transitional year in the life of farmer, slow food advocate and sansei David “Mas” Masumoto, and his relationship with his daughter Nikiko, who returns to the family farm with the intention of stepping into her father’s work boots.

 

Preview

 

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
Kumu Hina

INDEPENDENT LENS Kumu Hina

 

Over the course of a momentous year, Kumu Hina, a native Hawaiian mahu (transgender) teacher, inspires a tomboyish young girl to claim her place as leader of an all-male hula troupe, as Kumu Hina herself searches for love and a fulfilling romantic relationship with an unpredictable young Tongan man.

 

Preview

 

 

 

BREAKING BIG
Danai Gurira

BREAKING BIG: Danai Gurira

 

See how Tony Award-nominated writer Gurira made the leap from storyteller to Hollywood star. The Zimbabwe native yearned to bring African faces and voices to Broadway through her plays, but ended up starring in the mega-hit film Black Panther.

 

Preview

 

 

 

POV
93Queen

 

Set in the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn, 93Queen follows a group of tenacious Hasidic women who are smashing the patriarchy in their community by creating the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City. With unprecedented—and insider—access, 93Queen offers up a unique portrayal of a group of religious women who are taking matters into their own hands to change their own community from within.

 

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES
Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do

 

Legendary Broadway performer Chita Rivera has been lighting up Broadway and international stages for over 70 years. With starring roles in such iconic Broadway shows as West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman (to name only a few), Rivera was also a frequent guest star during the golden age of television variety specials. In April, 2015, Rivera returned to Broadway in a Tony-nominated starring role in the final John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical The Visit.

 

This special includes archival clips from Chita’s many shows and TV appearances, and interviews with choreographer Graciele Daniele, The Visit director John Doyle , John Kander, original West Side Story star Carol Lawrence, Terrence McNally, Dick Van Dyke, choreographer Dee Dee Wood, Ben Vereen and Chita’s daughter Lisa Mordente.

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Adventures in Growing Bolder, Episode 4

GROWING BOLDER: Episode 4

 

Nancy Hiller never felt like she fit in — not with her family, not in school and not as she began her career. She had what she calls a contentious relationship with her step-father, who would insult her work and her worth, calling her useless.

 

Out of spite, Nancy found herself at a local vocational college, looking for ways to make her life and her creativity take shape. What she discovered changed her future, and led her to become a successful columnist, author and artisan, specializing in woodworking and custom designs and creations.

 

But she’s never stopped Growing Bolder, and striving to prove the doubters wrong.

 

Other inspiring stories in this episode
From the operating room to a race track, meet the surgeon who is chasing down all of his dreams and making the world a better place at the same time. Plus, the up and coming doctor who didn’t get started until he was in his 40s.

 

FRONTLINE
Trafficked in America

 

Get the inside story of Guatemalan teens forced to work against their will in Ohio. An investigation of labor trafficking exposes a criminal
network exploiting undocumented minors, companies profiting from forced labor and the U.S. government’s role.

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
In the Edge and in the Moment

 

David Hackett’s life reads like a Hollywood script. A surfer turned skateboarding pioneer and icon, he was a world champion at 15. He was 20 when his brother murdered their mother in the kitchen of their family home. Hackett spent the next 20 years as a drug addict and alcoholic and one of his sports top professional riders.

 

After getting sober, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and cured himself with lifestyle modification. Happily married and totally drug and alcohol free, “Hackman” became a highly sought after addiction recovery guru, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, award-winning graphic and product designer, brand ambassador, and fine artist.

 

 

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