USJC 2022: MINK! Documentary – Empowering Generations of Women Athletes

The session began with a commemorative photo in celebration of Hawai’ian Kamaʻāina spirit. Ms. Jan Yanehiro (President, Jan Yanehiro, Inc.) then welcomed the Hawai’i Governor David Ige and Olympic surfer Carissa Moore (Five x WSL World Champion | 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist | Founder, Moore Aloha Charitable Foundation). Following a short video reliving Ms. Moore’s gold medal win in short board surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, Ms. Yanehiro asked Ms. Moore about her Olympic career and how it felt to win gold. Ms. Moore described her win as an emotional rollercoaster, based on 25 years’ experience and the contributions of everyone who has supported her, including her father who taught her to surf. It was a moment of pride for her, to be able to fulfil the legacy of the legendary Hawai’ian surfer and Olympic swimmer, Mr. Duke Kahanamoku, as the first ever women’s surfing gold champion. When asked if there would be another Olympics for her, Ms. Moore replied that there are many talented athletes competing for the spots, so she will need to work very hard. Ms. Moore gave the advice to aspiring young athletes to believe in themselves and their possibility even when facing challenges, and to try to turn negative days around in order to consistently put in the work.

The conversation moved on to Ms. Moore’s non-profit “Moore Aloha,” which runs events and workshops that support women and girls through activities promoting mindfulness, community, self-love and friendship. Following this session at the USJC conference, Ms. Moore will be hosting her organization’s first international events in Japan aiming toward an exchange with Hawai’ian students in 2023. Ms. Moore then introduced Mr. Kai Kushner, her mentee within the U.S. surfing team. Mr. Kushner and Ms. Moore hope to spread the Aloha spirit and passion for the ocean through surfing lessons for students in Japan. Ms. Yanehiro’s questions moved on to the toughest aspect of surfing, which Ms. Moore stated is learning to let go and trust your ability as so much of surfing is out of a surfer’s control. Mr. Kushner added that staying present and reading the wave is vital.

A member of the audience asked whether surfing is a mental or physical sport, to which Ms. Moore replied that surfing is a blend of both, and that headspace has a big impact on surfing performance, with which Mr. Kushner agreed. The next question then asked for more information on the mindset that professional surfers have and train for, knowing that they have no control over the waves. Ms. Moore and Mr. Kushner were in agreement that the most important aspect is to prepare, by practicing, resting adequately, and “ticking the boxes.”

The next question centered on progress toward equal representation in the sport of surfing.

Ms. Moore answered that over the 25 years she has surfed, including 12 years of competitions, the environment has only continued to change for the better. In her rookie year, there were half as many surfing events for women as for men, with comparatively limited prize money and worse competition conditions. However last year, the number of events, prize money and conditions were equal between men and women. The next question from the audience related to surfing’s relationship with the cultural legacy of native Hawai’ians. Ms. Moore answered that most surfers surf for a love of the sea, and surfing helps her personally feel connected and proud of her heritage. She expressed hope that the Olympic surfing events will help spread more awareness of Mr. Kahanamoku’s legacy and the Hawai’ian origins of surfing.

Ms. Yanehiro thanked Ms. Moore and Mr. Kushner for their time, and moved into the second half of the session, showing a pre-filmed interview with Ms. Naomi Osaka (Tennis Champion | Social Change Advocate | Executive Producer of MINK!), regarding the documentary film “Mink!” The film, for which Ms. Osaka was Executive Producer, follows the story of Ms. Patsy Takemoto Mink, co-author of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that forbids sex-based discrimination within federally funded educational programs. In the interview, Professor Curtiss Takada Rooks (Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, Loyola Marymount University), visiting professor at Sophia University, Tokyo, asked Ms. Osaka what made her decide to work with this project. Ms. Osaka answered that Ms. Mink’s fight for the rights of everyone as the first woman of color in congress was inspiring. When asked how it felt to also be one of the “first” for many of her achievements in the sport of tennis, Ms. Osaka answered that, while she felt it was very cool, she is more interested to see what those after her will achieve. Prof. Rooks and Ms. Osaka discussed their shared Black-Japanese ancestry and how impactful Ms. Osaka’s career has been in terms of representation and visibility for those of mixed Japanese ancestry, including how it felt to be invited to light the Olympic cauldron for the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Prof. Rooks then asked Ms. Osaka for her thoughts on mental health, especially in relation to her background. Ms. Osaka explained that there is often pressure not to express weakness within competitive sports, but recognition of when you need to take a break is not a weakness and is highly important. Regarding future documentaries, Ms. Osaka answered that she has learned a lot through the production of Mink! and shared that she would like to work on projects to educate people about Haiti in a positive way. Finally, when asked what message she had for young women and girls, especially of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) backgrounds, Ms. Osaka answered to believe in their potential and not feel devalued by their uniqueness for it is their power.

The audience watched the documentary, following the story of Ms. Mink based on statements from her daughter Wendy, from her family background in Hawai’i to her inauguration as the first woman of color elected to the United States Congress and successful political career, despite widespread discrimination against Japanese Americans, and a lack of equal educational opportunities for women at the time. The documentary pays special attention to Ms. Mink’s role in Title IX, which has had an enormous impact on gender equity in the United States in both education and athletics, and faced widespread opposition from male-led athletics organizations.

Ms. Yanehiro invited Mr. Ben Proudfoot (Founder and CEO, Breakwater Studios) to speak more on “Mink!,” asking what inspired him as a Canadian to tell this story. Mr. Proudfoot answered that when researching for his film “Queen of Basketball” he came across the story of Ms. Mink and Title IX, and felt that it was worth telling, and collaborated with Ms. Osaka to produce the film. Mr. Proudfoot stated that the main response to the film has been one of surprise that the story is not known more widely, as many female athletes recognize the impact Title IX had on their own careers. The film has also been nominated for a variety of awards. When asked, Mr. Proudfoot also gave his own personal opinion, that even today it can seem that sweeping changes are impossible, However Ms. Mink pushed on despite this, leading to great results, which are now up to us to protect.

The floor was opened to questions and comments. A member of the audience commented that the story of Ms. Mink is well known on the island of Maui, and another mentioned how the film was recently shown in public schools in Hawai’i, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX and Ms. Mink’s legacy. Another member of the audience commented that Wendy was a great storyteller and asked if it is easy or difficult to match this energy for documentary filmmaking. Mr. Proudfoot said that the film used seven hours of interview footage in total, and that was difficult to cut down so many hours of excellent storytelling.

Mr. Ken Inouye, son of late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who was also in the audience, asked Mr. Proudfoot how in the event we have positive, groundbreaking legislation like this in years to come, we can ensure that stories like this are widely known. Mr. Proudfoot answered that is incumbent for filmmakers and journalists to find and tell stories because they need to be told, rather than based on any potential to make a profit. Mr. Proudfoot conveyed that Wendy was moved by the depiction of her mother in the documentary, and that he is hoping to release a feature film in the future based on the book she helped write about her mother’s life.