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HIFF is honored to nominate this film for the Festival's new emerging filmmaker award, the KAU KA HŌKŪ AWARD.
The last remaining kingdom in the South Pacific, the island nation of Tonga has long been home to a vibrant and creative community of transgender women known as leitis, who have a proud history of dedicated service to the royal family. But while Tonga may be the only South Pacific island never to have been colonized, it has hardly escaped the influence of Western ideologies and bigotry, which now threaten the leitis’ role in Tongan culture and society—as well as their livelihoods and very lives.
Over the course of an eventful year, LEITIS IN WAITING follows Joey, a devout Catholic of noble descent, as she organizes an exuberant beauty pageant, mentors a young contestant rejected by her family, garners the support of a Royal Princess, and spars with American-financed evangelicals threatening to resurrect colonial-era laws that would criminalize the leitis' lives. With unexpected humor and extraordinary access to the Kingdom's royals and religious leaders, this emotional journey reveals what it means to be different in a society ruled by tradition, and what it takes to be accepted without forsaking who you are.
The latest film from Dean Hammer and Joe Wilson, who brought the similarly themed KUMU HINA to HIFF in 2014, brings another fiercely outspoken advocate into the limelight, as Joey defends the rights of the leitis and all LGBTQ Tongans by encouraging direct dialogue with their vitriolic opposition. It is a true portrait of the pride and poise in an island paradise tainted by the tendrils of western cultural colonialism.