Worth Watching 2

It’s been a while since I wrote about documentaries, and Netflix has a ton of new movies available for May. This past week, I watched two that were really insightful and uplifting, in very different ways. When it comes to real life stories, I enjoy films that explore social issues, and both of these fit that bill with a careful mix of curiosity and respect.

Love Me follows a group of American men as they travel to the Ukraine to meet potential wives. Through an online service, the men are introduced to large groups of women in three different Ukranian cities, and they spend their trip meeting and dating, in the hopes of returning home engaged. Most of the men interviewed in the film seem really genuine in their search to find a partner, and some come away successful, while others are left brokenhearted, or worse, scammed out of their money. I liked the movie and found some of the stories really sweet, but there wasn’t much time spent interviewing the would-be wives.

Some of the women attending the “socials,” where the couples are introduced, appear obviously poor and in search of better financial situations, no matter the cost. One woman is portrayed as a gold-digger who supports her two daughters by wooing multiple men online and then using them for their money. She is seen from a very slanted point of view, and while her actions in the film are surprising (she goes so far as to marry one man and then ignore him for six months), it would have been insightful to hear more about her personal story.

I liked Love Me and especially enjoyed the story of the San Antonio man who married a woman after meeting her on one of his many trips to the Ukraine. They seem happy and have since had a son.

Kumu Hina is an especially inspiring story about a transgender teacher from Hawaii working to instill in her young students the importance of Hawaiian traditions. After Hawaii became the fiftieth state, the schools were Americanized and Hawaiian language and culture were removed from the curriculum completely. A generation of children grew up not speaking the native language or performing traditional songs and dances, so parents and grandparents are now seeking a more traditional Hawaiian education for their children. Hina Wong-Kalu, the subject of the film, teaches in an Hawaiian immersion school, and is known and revered in Hawaii as a cultural icon of traditional song and dance.

Within Hawaii, as within many cultures, there is a great understanding of and respect for the third gender, and Hina is empowered in her role as mahu, the Hawaiian term for an individual with both male and female attributes. Mahu are honored as keepers of ancient traditions, and Hina fulfills her responsibilities with grace and sincerity. Along the way, she mentors a young student who also embodies aspects of mahu. The film is touching and really captures the importance of tradition in modern Hawaii, as well as the love shown to Hina and her student by the larger community.

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