Street Ballad: A Jakarta Story is my first film. I was drawn to the unusual tale behind it not because of any ambition to become a filmmaker or the quest to find a ‘good topic’ for a documentary, but because one day on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia, I stumbled across a gang of unique individuals whose amazing life story I could not ignore.
Street buskers: disaffected yet spirited youngsters who navigate Jakarta’s crowded buses and polluted streets, croon songs that spell out their life stories and challenge the powers that be. Marginalized youngsters working hard for enough loose change to get them through another week, never turning to crime, unemployment, or despair.
I was drawn into their world and as I spent more time with them, I realized their tale deserved to be told. I also recognized that it was a story with the potential to fascinate and charm audiences as much as it captivated me. Although I wasn’t yet a filmmaker, it was a story that happened to contain everything a documentary filmmaker could ask for: contagious personalities, compelling social justice issues, individual struggles that shed light on universal problems, a colorful urban sub-culture and – as an added bonus – a built-in soundtrack of wonderful original music. Continue reading →
Recently, our friends at Telegraph21 highlighted Tales of the Waria in their t21 Weekly Feature, including video clips, an exclusive filmmaker interview, and screening information. Telegraph21’s Steffie Kinglake sat down with filmmaker Kathy Huang to discuss the documentary, which premiered last night on Global Voices. The filmmaker will participate in an online social screening on Monday, June 4 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT right here.
t21: What inspired you to make Tales of the Waria?
Kathy: I first learned about warias in 2005, when I saw a newspaper photograph of a gorgeous waria who had won a beauty contest in Jakarta. I knew about the “ladyboys” of Thailand, but I had no idea that transgender people could live so openly in Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Like a lot of Americans I had these notions of Islam as being oppressive and particularly unforgiving toward sexual minorities. How could a community of warias possibly exist? Three years later, unable to shake my curiosity, I decided to take some Bahasa Indonesia classes and travel to Indonesia to experience the lives of warias firsthand.
t21: What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Kathy: Many viewers come in assuming that warias must face constant persecution within their communities. I hope that what they see in the film challenges their preconceptions. There is room in Islam, as there is in any religion, for differences in appearances, lifestyles, and sexual preferences. Continue reading →
The ITVS-funded documentary by Kathy Huang premieres Sunday, June 3 on Global Voices on the WORLD Channel. An online social screening and chat will be held on Monday, June 4 at 8pm ET/5pm PT with the filmmaker to discuss issues raised in the film. That event will take place here.
This past March the Associated Press broke an unexpected story concerning Barack Obama’s childhood in Indonesia. Apparently, as a young boy growing up in Jakarta, Obama’s care had been entrusted to a transgender woman named Evie. American readers were shocked. What were the chances of the president having a transgender nanny — and in Indonesia, of all places? Having worked closely with the transgender community in Indonesia for the past several years, I can say: actually, not that bad.
In Indonesia biological men who believe that they are born with the souls of women are known as “warias.” The term is a melding of two Indonesian words: “wanita” (“woman”) and “pria” (“man”). As a group, warias are diverse, encompassing what we in America might call cross-dressers, transsexuals, drag queens, and effeminate gay men. What unites them is an irrepressible feminine spirit.
I first learned about warias in 2005, when I saw a newspaper photograph of a gorgeous waria who had won a beauty contest in Jakarta. I knew about the “ladyboys” of Thailand, but I had no idea that transgender people could live so openly in Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Like many Americans I had this notion of Islam as being oppressive and particularly unforgiving toward sexual minorities. How could a community of warias possibly exist? Continue reading →
ITVS’s Open Call provides finishing funds for single non-fiction or animation public television programs on any subject and from any viewpoint. Projects must have begun production as evidenced by a work-in-progress video.
Check out the clip below with filmmaker Kathy Huang, who received Open Call funds for her film TALES OF THE WARIA. The film looks at three transgender individuals in Indonesia––the world’s largest Muslim country––who search for love and acceptance with unexpected results. Learn more about what Huang hopes people will learn from the film.