The Kingdom of Tonga is one of the most socially conservative and deeply religious nations in the world but is also home to a visible community of talented and creative “leitis” or transgender women.
- Dean Hamer
- Joe Wilson
- Pacific Islanders, Identity, Tonga, LGBT
Tonga Leitis tells the story of Tonga's evolving approach to gender fluidity through a character-driven portrait of the most prominent leiti in the Kingdom, Joey Joleen Mataele, a devout Catholic of royal descent. Over the course of an eventful year, Joey organizes a beauty pageant, mentors a young leiti who is rejected by her family, and battles with fundamentalist Christians over Tonga's antiquated anti-sodomy and cross-dressing laws. Her story reveals what it means to be different in a deeply religious and conservative society, and what it takes to be accepted without giving up who you are.
Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson - Director/Producers
Following extensive careers in scientific research and human rights advocacy, respectively, Hamer and Wilson picked up cameras with hopes of reaching broader audiences with stories that would inform and compel people to act. They formed Qwaves to produce documentaries that emanate from the voices of those on the outside, that inspire creativity, that incite us to abandon our comfortable role as spectators and compel us to question and to act. Their films have been supported by the Sundance Institute, Ford Foundation, ITVS and Pacific Islanders in Communications, won awards at film festivals around the world and used as outreach and educational tools by a wide range of community and educational organizations.
In 2004, they returned to Wilson's small hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania, to direct and produce the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Out in the Silence. Through more than 1,000 grassroots screenings across the country, this film has become part of a national movement to open dialogue, counter school bullying, and support fairness and equality for all in small towns and rural communities.
Hamer and Wilson now live on the north shore of O'ahu, where they are working on a series of films about Pacific Islander voices and culture. Their feature documentary Kumu Hina, supported by Pacific Islanders in Communications and ITVS, premiered as the sold-out closing night film at the Hawai'i International Film Festival, won the Audience Award for its national PBS broadcast on Independent Lens, and received the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding documentary. The accompanying youth-centered educational film, A Place in the Middle, had its international premiere at the Berlinale and has won awards at numerous children's festivals. The film and accompanying educational toolkit are at the center of a strength-based international educational campaign for gender diversity and inclusion.
In addition to his film work, Hamer is a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, the author of several best-selling nonfiction books including The Science of Desire and The God Gene, a consultant for the BBC and Discovery channels, and a sought-after lecturer and frequent guest on TV documentaries and news shows including Nightline and Oprah. Wilson previously served as Director of the Human Rights Program at Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, D.C., and Producer of Pacifica National Radio's public affairs program Democracy Now. He's a University of Pittsburgh alum and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African nation of Mali.
Producer - Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian teacher, cultural practitioner and community leader with a long history of perpetuating Kanaka Maoli language philosophy and traditions. She was born on O‘ahu and educated at Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawai‘i, from which she received a B.A. in education in 1994. She was a founding member and outreach director of Kulia Na Mamo, a Native Hawaiian transgender health organization. She served 13 years as the Cultural Director at Halau Lokahi, a public charter school dedicated to using Native Hawaiian culture, history, and education as tools for developing and empowering the next generation of Hawaiian scholars. Wong-Kalu also engages in many community affairs and civic activities and is currently the Chair of the O‘ahu Island Burial Council, a state agency which oversees the management of Native Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains. In 2014, Wong-Kalu announced her bid for a position on the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, making her one of the first transgender candidates to run for statewide political office in the United States.
As a hanai daughter of a Hawaiian-Tongan family, Wong-Kalu has longstanding ties with the Tongan community. She is fluent in the Tongan language, and a choir member at the Siasi O' Tonga Houeiki i.Kalihi Valley. Her husband, Haemaccelo Kalu was born on Niuafoʻou, a small island in the Kingdom of Tonga and attended school in the capital city of Nukuʻalofa.
Wong-Kalu became familiar with documentary film through her collaboration with Hamer and Wilson on Kumu Hina, of which she is the protagonist, and A Place in the Middle, for which she is also the story creator, campaign spokesperson and educational advisor. She has previously worked as a cultural advisor for several film and television programs about the Pacific Islands.