Sports and I don’t jive. I am a six-foot five, 285-pound, Hapa local who contains no such interest in sports. Honestly. If someone were to approach me with a conversation about basketball, football, or soccer, I would seriously walk away. I say this all not to create the impression that I hate sports, which I don’t; rather, to covey that I’ve admittedly been ignorant about sports, let alone the history of it, ever since my childhood. That all changed when my colleague, mother of writer-director-producer Dean Kaneshiro, informed me of the world-premiere of her son’s documentary Rise of the Wahine on Monday, November 5, 2014. Having only been told a basi c synopsis of the film, I decided to attend.
The documentary is an intimate look at how the University of Hawaii’s volleyball team, the UH Wahines, came to be. Instead of the film beginning as a standard sports flick, Kaneshiro exposes us to the backstory and history which involves the association of two strong women who rose to power within congress and athletics: Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Dr. Donnis H. Thompson, respectively. The exposure of these women through this documentary is so powerful and inspirational, especially considering I only heard of Patsy Mink upon her death, and have never heard of Dr. Thompson until this film. This really saddens me to reflect upon because two very influential women who made significant contributions to the history of Hawaii was never taught throughout my 20 years as a student from preschool to a current Master’s degree student. That said, Wahine did a stellar job of depicting the significance of these women and their contributions to the state of Hawaii. Title IX plays a key role and factor as the driving force of these women’s actions, an act which states
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Mink’s fervor and persistence in instating this act inspired by her dear friend was the precursor to Dr. Thompson’s arduous task of forever changing the athletic industry in terms of gender equality for the better. Maintaining thick skin and a heavy foot led to both of these women’s success stories. The UH Wahines have sold out games over many decades, thanks to both Congresswoman Mink and Dr. Thompson.
What really causes a compelling documentary is found within its title: Rise of the Wahine. On the surface, it tells viewers of the film’s athletic nature, but beyond that, it’s truly the profound impact of how the ‘wahine’, which means ‘woman’, within Congresswoman Mink and Dr. Thompson rose to power and overcame both gender and racial odds and challenges. They both existed during a time when society was patriarchal and governed by men when women were nurses, teachers, or secretaries. Kaneshiro’s depiction of these women is so important, because many people who are not affiliated with politics or athletics will never have been exposed to this imperative story which has been waiting to be told. The interviews of former Wahine volleyball players, those close to Mink and Thompson, the clippings, and footage of the two women create such a credible and engaging film.
The ultimate payoff of the film came in the end, when the audience of the packed Hawaii Theatre rose to its feet and gave Kaneshiro a standing ovation—a most deserved one. In the Q & A session that followed, audience members asked questions in terms of the film’s distribution, and both Kaneshiro and Wahine’s co-producer Tiffany Taylor expressed how, after pursuing a worldwide theatrical release, would love to pursue a local route in exposing the film to schools, a commendable and worthwhile endeavor worth pursuing.
The amount of research involved with creating Wahine ultimately paid off as it necessarily exposed the audience of the Hawaii Theatre to an engrossing and captivating historical documentary. Watching the rise of Congresswoman Mink and Dr. Thompson in front of my very eyes opened them to a story that was begging to be told. Kaneshiro leads us through the lives of these women and the obstacles they overcame in order to change society for the better, one action of which has led the UH Wahines to monumental success. Once this film comes to a neighborhood near you, I insist you take the time to watch it, for the scope of your history-background will never be the same.