Skip to main content

Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

Native Hawaiian teacher, cultural practitioner, and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu has been gaining international acclaim for her latest short animated film “Kapaemahu.”

The film has just garnered a coveted spot on the 93rd Academy Awards Oscars shortlist in the Animated Short Film category. Additionally, and after playing at more than 100 film festivals internationally, “Kapaemahu” received the top award at three Oscar-qualifying festivals.

The story of the film as described in their media release is as follows:

“Kapaemahu” goes to the heart of the issue of erasure and reclamation of Indigenous histories. The 8-minute film tells the long-forgotten story of four mahu, extraordinary beings of dual male and female spirit who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii. Beloved by the people for their gentle ways and miraculous cures, they imbued four giant boulders with their powers. Although the stones still stand on Waikiki Beach, the true story behind them has been hidden for generations. Narrated in an ancient Hawaiian dialect, and seen through the eyes of a curious child, Kapaemahu brings this powerful legend to life through vivid animation.

KAPAEMAHU festival still 5 ceremony

Wong-Kalu herself identifies as Māhū, a person that embodies both masculine and feminine qualities. Māhū have long been regarded as sacred, and healers in Hawaiian culture.

The meaning of Māhū

As Māhū, Wong-Kalu said the story of her film is especially meaningful to her.

“Had I known the story of these stones when I was young, it might have made a real difference in my life,” said Wong-Kalu in a news release. “It's difficult being your full authentic self when your history and language have been kept from you.”

Wong-Kalu told Indian Country Today that her message is one of hope and healing.

“The message that I would like to share with all people, is that in this time of the world needing healing, I hope that this story is perhaps a glimmer of hope for those who may need it. Healing requires us really consider the balance in our lives. Balance is about a duality of spirit in each and every one of us, for some of us ... it doesn't pull one way or the other. It's very strong on both sides.”

“We as Native people must assert our place on our own terms. We must assert our presence and we must reaffirm our connections to our land. We must even reaffirm our connections to one another. There are many Hawaiians who possess cultural knowledge, knowledge of history and language. There are many Hawaiians who do not, which has occurred through colonization. That process of colonization has alienated us not only from our own people, history language, and culture but from our own self,” said Wong-Kalu.

KAPAEMAHU festival still 9 modern rocks
Scroll to Continue

Read More

Named as one of ten outstanding Indigenous artists honored by NDN Collective who was awarded one of the inaugural Radical Imagination Artists Grant’s, Wong-Kalu also shared words for inspiring Indigenous filmmakers.

“Follow your gut, not your heart. The Hawaiian heart is your gut. The heart is the western placeholder for emotion. Our gut, as Native people, is what we really look to. It is where our emotions are located when we are angry, and we are happy. When people are angry, you don’t necessarily think of it as the heart not able to function, it’s really lower down that can’t function.”

Wong-Kalu's Kanaka Maoli identity is a key factor in her desire to tell stories in her own way.

“Our survival as Indigenous people depends on our ability to know and practice our cultural traditions, to speak and understand our language, and to feel an authentic connection to our own history,” she said in the release.

“That is why I wanted to make a film about Kapaemahu and to write and narrate it in the only form of Hawaiian that has been continuously spoken since prior to the arrival of foreigners. We need to be active participants in telling our own stories in our own way.”

"Kapaemahu" is currently available to view on Vimeo HERE for a limited time.

Social channels for the film:

Social channels for filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu:

Native Nerd Phone

Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics, and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: he is also the opinions’ editor,

Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.