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New documentary on Honolulu trans club in production
by Owen Keehnen
2013-04-17

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Fifty years ago the lights above the club read, "Glade Show Lounge—Where Boys Will Be Girls." The Glade nightclub was located on Hotel Street in Honolulu's Chinatown. It was a place for locals and tourists to celebrate the life and artistry of the mahu (transgender) performers.

The Glade was a world of beauty and illusion where glamour was the standard and the talent, costumes and productions were all spectacular. The mahu of The Glade were loved, adored, and a great source of pride to the community.

However, Hawaii was rapidly changing. In the early 1960s the islands were in the midst of a growth explosion. Industrialization and the influence of statehood had created a shift in the island attitude. Western ways clashed with island traditions. As a result the once-revered mahu soon found themselves the subjects of ridicule and discrimination.

Law officials tried to shame the mahu community into conformity by forcing them to wear a button that read I Am A Boy. When the mahu were caught without their badge visible it was considered behaving with the "intent to deceive" and as a result it meant arrest, a $500 fine, and oftentimes violence. Because of increased hostility and even several murders, an organized movement of mahus developed by the early 1970s that would slowly change the face of how mahus and ai`kane (same-sex lovers) would be treated.

When working on another project indigenous filmmaker Connie M. Florez became intrigued after hearing stories about the Glade and seeing so little written on the place, the time, and the struggles of the mahu. She realized a film needed to be made. As a result Florez has spent almost a decade researching the rich history behind Honolulu's historic Chinatown and specifically the legendary Glade nightspot. The filmmaker searched through microfiche, newspaper clippings, photos and film footage for material. To date more than 6,000 images have been donated to the project along with original 1971 footage from the Glade Show Lounge.

The most powerful sources of material were Florez's first-person interviews with several mahus and ai`kane who had survived that tumultuous time and were willing to share their incredible stories. Florez explained, "People remembered all the beautiful drag queens and mahu performers. Looking back many had a sense of pride." It soon became apparent to the filmmaker that these stories of courage and vital pieces of history needed to be told.

Under Florez's direction, The Glades Project is being carefully constructed to insure that each eyewitness account from this transitive and turbulent period is chronicled for future generations as a tool for understanding as well as appreciation. Florez hopes that the film will bring a greater awareness of the struggles that were endured by these people and how their efforts ultimately resulted in making the lives of future generations easier.

Florez is asking the community to become involved and contribute to the film's completion. An estimated $60,000 is still needed for post-production work including historical footage and clearances, digital transferring, composing and sound design, etc. Florez explained, "I am hoping to finish the last filming by this summer in Chinatown where it all began. Editing and post-production by spring of 2014 for completion." Currently there is a 20-minute cut of the project that Florez has been showing in assorted screenings and presentations.

The story of the Glade is one of hope, determination and survival in the face of bigotry. The Glades Project reveals the strength of those who survived and flourished when their true existence was a crime. This powerful chapter of Hawaiian and trans history remains a mystery to most people in the community. Florez is hoping to change that.

To help or to learn more about this exciting project, go to www.thegladesproject.com .


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