Watch Disney’s legendary Oscar-nominated director as he and the Oscar-shortlisted film’s producers discuss bringing Pacific stories alive through animation.

“Kapaemahu” would make history as the first Native Hawaiian animated short to be nominated for the Oscar. But it’s an important transgender breakthrough as well. The eight-minute 2D short tells the long-forgotten story about the four stones on Waikiki Beach placed as tribute to four legendary mahu (third gender individuals), who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii in the 15th century.

The composing, animation, and powerful storyline of Kapaemahu has earned the film a spot in the race for an Academy Award. Kapaemahu is narrated by Kumu Hina, a Na Hoku Hanohano Award winning cultural leader. “It was critical to me to ensure that the voice was going to reflect a voice, not the voice, but a voice of kanaka and who best to help narrate the story of four legendary mahu then someone who is also mahu?”

Societies have been shaped through their legends and myths, which reflect worldviews, define human relations and teach life-long lessons. As a result of colonization, many Indigenous stories from all over the world were suppressed and consequently lost to history. But some traditional storytellers are utilizing contemporary techniques, such as filmmaking, to help secure these oral histories and ensure the survival of their messages. For Native Hawaiian teacher and cultural practitioner, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, this is a task she does not take on lightly. Her recent animated short film, “Kapaemahu,” reveals the hidden history of four monumental stones on Waikiki Beach, and the legendary transgender healing spirits within them.

Throughout history cultures have told tales of magnificent beings whose power and influence have become legend. These stories are able to move across generations long after they were first told and can create the fabric of societies and their history. After six long years of research and two years of concept and script development, co-directors/writers Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson have produced the visually arresting Kapaemahu, a film which reveals the healing powers of four mysterious stones on Waikiki beach. A story which has long lain hidden from outsiders, the trio’s portrayal of the legendary male and female spirits who imbued the giant boulders with their powers features vividly stunning animation from Directors Notes alum Daniel Sousa. DN jumped at the opportunity to speak to Wong-Kalu about her personal ties to the tale, honouring the legacy of the stones and why she feels it is of utmost importance to show this Oscar shortlisted story to the world.

Directors Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, and Joe Wilson have previously worked together on documentaries dealing with gender and sexuality. Now, they’re taking on animation with Oscar-nominated animator Daniel Sousa to tell a tale of Hawaiian culture and acceptance. Here in a conversation with Awards Daily, they talk about the experience with animation and their close collaboration. Plus, they expound on what the story means to them from Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu hearing about it since she was little to the rest of the team learning about it years ago. They also talk about how long it took the film to get to screen and how they are still promoting it. Finally, they reveal what went into creating the distinct style of animation and what they will say if they win the Oscar.

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.

Oscars Predictions: Best Animated Short

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. The Academy announced the shortlist for the animated short contenders, and they produced an interesting crop of selections. “Kapaemahu” has the visual razzle-dazzle to make the lineup, but as we can expect from AMPAS voters, surprises can always occur.

A Guide to Oscars’ Shortlisted Animated Shorts

The 10 shortlisted films in the Oscars Best Animated Short category include four from major U.S. studios (two Pixar, one DreamWorks Animation and one Netflix) and a number of international entries. The category also contains a couple of straightforward commercial shorts designed to amuse and charm, and a few experimental ones that at times border on the surreal. These 10 will be narrowed down to five with the nomination voting from March 5-10. This is the second in TheWrap’s guide to the shortlisted films in all three shorts categories.

After clearing the first round of nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards on 9 February, Hawaiian animated short, Kapaemahu is now gearing up for the bigger face off. Ahead of the next round of voting by the Academy’s animation branch on 15 March, the makers have released the ‘Making Of’ video of Kapaemahu to give a better insight and look into the history of making the film. The video gives an in-depth picture of how tireless research, fascinating cultural history and animated imagination blends into a whole – an animation masterpiece that the film is.

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