IN SOME INDEPENDENT cultures, people of the opposite sex are not only welcome but empowered, in the belief that their ability to move between states has given them the privilege of accessing the spiritual world. and evidence of supernatural power. Philippine-American filmmaker Isabel Sandoval’s upcoming film “Tropical Gothic” (scheduled for release in 2023) revolves around a babaylan, or shaman, a role that in the Philippines has historically been assumed by women but also extended to men if they commit to living as women, dressing as women, and sometimes marrying. The setting is the 16th century island of Cebu, shortly after the arrival of the conquerors, who claimed the territory for Spain, naming it after their crown prince and later king, Philip II. After a Spaniard captures babaylan’s land, she pretends to be possessed by the man’s dead wife. In the script, babaylan’s back story isn’t made explicit, but Sandoval, who is transgender, plays the part, “to inform interpretation,” she said. As in her previous film, “Lingua Franca” (2019), set in Brooklyn and including dialogue in Tagalog and Cebuano, she makes no art with the assumption of outsider gaze and a need for explanation.
And “Tropical Gothic” is more than just a historical drama. Sandoval, now based in New York, recalls that when she was growing up in 80s Cebu, students were punished if they were made to speak Cebuano. Colonialism is not an artifact to be viewed one-sidedly, as if kept in a museum; it continues to this day. Its most insidious form may be a kind of localized colonialism, in which, under foreign rule, a decaying and demoralized population is taught to devalue tradition. their own and ultimately turn their backs on them.
So, to restore the past, can be an act of protest. In the animated short film “Kapaemahu” (2020), directed by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, a mo’olelo (“Oral Story”) given new life, recounts the journey of four healers from Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands many centuries ago. Like Wong-Kalu, who narrated the film, and dancer and singer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, who composed and performed hymns in it, healers were māhū, “Neither male nor female… is a mixture of mind, heart, and spirit,” as the film describes. They brought knowledge of how to ease pain and cure illness and were welcomed and loved. When it was time for them to depart, the grateful community dragged four rocks to the beach at Waikiki, in what is now Honolulu; The māhū infused the stones with their souls, then disappeared.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/t-magazine/queer-indigenous-artists-gender.html Queer indigenous artists are rediscovering a sense of gender flexibility