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Leitis in Waiting (2018)

The story of Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in the South Pacific Kingdom.


Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson | 1 more credit »


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Credited cast:
Joey Joleen Mataele Joey Joleen Mataele ... Herself


LEITIS IN WAITING is a raw yet tender portrait of Joey Mataele, the leader of an intrepid group of leitis, or indigenous transgender women, fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in their South Pacific Kingdom. The film follows Joey, a devout Catholic of noble descent, as she organizes an exuberant beauty pageant presided over by a princess, provides shelter and training for a young contestant rejected by her family, 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, her emotional journey reveals what it means to be different in a society ruled by tradition, and the challenge of fulfilling the promise of human rights for all without forsaking culture and tradition. This is an inside story, created by a transgender Native Hawaiian who once competed in Joey's beauty pageant. Written by Dean Hamer

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A raw yet tender portrait of Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of indigenous transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in their South Pacific Kingdom.





Official Sites:

Official Facebook | Official site


Tonga | USA


English | Tonga

Release Date:

23 May 2018 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

Tonga See more »


Box Office


$340,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

Waves See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
See full technical specs »

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User Reviews

An interesting documentary from the South Pacific
29 March 2019 | by euroGarySee all my reviews

When Joey Mataele was a small boy, the Queen of the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga thought him so pretty she removed the dress from her life-size doll and put it instead on Joey. Joey contined wearing dresses, including - to the consternation of his parliamentarian father - in public, and today is one of Tonga's leading transgender women, known locally as 'leitis'. This documentary film is called 'Leitis in Waiting' (see what they did there?)

The film opens with scenes of traditional Tongan dancing - grass skirts, graceful bowing and hand-twirling - intercut with a leiti giving a bawdy performance of a more modern song. Despite this jarring juxtaposition, the viewer learns that leitis are actually an established part of Tongan culture, for example serving the monarchy and working at social gatherings. But this acceptance is under threat from outside influences, particularly religion (surprise!) Athough we do meet at least one religious leader who speaks out in support of the leitis, most of those featured are very much in the anti camp - none more so than (the rather handsome) Pastor Barry, a televangelist whose church, the film informs us more than once, is 'USA-funded'.

I was attracted to this documentary for its look at modern South Pacific society more than I was interested in the transgender issues. But the viewer would have to possess a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for Joey and her fellow leitis as they attempt to claim their place in a modernising country (albeit with powerful support: the patron of the Tonga Leiti's - sic - Association is a princess of the royal family). With this kind of campaigning documentary there is always the question how fair is the portrayal of the opposing side (for instance, was the best thing Pastor Barry could say about homosexuals really that they should be put in prison for a month and he didn't want them killed "as in Iran"?) But Mataele makes for an articulate and engaging spokesperson (in fact, not featuring more of her trip to Geneva to address the United Nations was a wasted opoortunity) and this is an interesting film.

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