Kapaemahu [subtitled]

Most years—at least all the previous years that I happen to have seen them—the Academy Award shorts shown as a package contains five films from each category: animated, live action, and documentary. All the nominees, in other words.

This year there were instead eight films included in the set of animated short films for some reason (perhaps because the running times were shorter than usual and so they made up for it by adding more films?). So there were the five nominees—the finalists for the Oscar—and then three more “honorable mentions” or whatever you want to call them.

The first of those three extras was the 8 minute Kapaemahu. It is narrated in the native Hawaiian language Olelo Niihau, with subtitles. (Not that I recognized what the language was of course; I read that fact later.)

The film tells the story of an actual, albeit obscure, Hawaiian legend about four mysterious voyagers who long ago arrived in Hawaii from Tahiti. They are described as being neither male nor female (though also as being unusually tall and having deep voices, so even supposed deviations from patriarchy still retain some of its trappings, like that there’s something inherently authoritative, superior, or godlike about being tall with a stereotypically masculine voice).

The four were great healers, who brought about miraculous cures to all who came to them. (Evidently not by actually doing anything, like science, but through “spiritual” healing, or magic.)

Before the four returned home, the local people placed four big rocks on the beach as a sort of tribute to them, and they responded by somehow transferring their magic healing powers to the rocks.

Which is why to this day native Hawaiians don’t get sick and enjoy extraordinarily long, happy, and healthy lives. Oh wait. No, as usual, despite what you’d expect, the side with all the magic and with the support of the gods got conquered by European assholes with very non-magic, non-divine guns.

According to the film, the magic rocks were long forgotten until recently; in fact for a time a bowling alley was built over them. They have since been recovered, but the film laments that their story is still too little known, and too often bowdlerized to eliminate the fact that the four magic healers were transgender. It insists that it is imperative that the “true” (i.e., made-up) history of the rocks be relearned.

Kapaemahu is nicely animated, and it’ll automatically be popular in many circles for checking off as many politically correct boxes as it does (including indigenous, and transgender or non-binary). And really the story it tells is no sillier than the stories of those who take mainstream Western religions literally.

Unfortunately, that’s very silly indeed.