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Documentary explores untold story of Title IX pioneers in Hawaii

For Dean Kaneshiro, all it took was one interview.

In 2010, the filmmaker, whose documentary “Rise of the Wahine: Champions of Title IX” explores a largely untold piece of Title IX’s history through the eyes of the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team, was assisting on another project related to the team, known as the Rainbow Wahine, when he first heard the story. He was interviewing Beth McLachlin, the captain of the first UH women’s volleyball team in the early 1970s, and she said something that would stick with Kaneshiro. Eight years later his feature-length documentary is set to premiere today, September 5, in Honolulu.

“[McLachlin] was talking about Donnis Thompson and Patsy Mink and Title IX, and I didn’t really know what she was talking about,” Kaneshiro said. “I went home and was like ‘What is this story?’ I was completely moved.”

McLachlin was relaying the story of the early years of the Rainbow Wahine women’s volleyball program. She spoke of a classic underdog story, one that saw a team with little support and even less funding compete in national championship matches against the top teams in the country. It was also a story of the rampant gender discrimination following the passage of Title IX and the fearless women who shepherded the law in the realm of collegiate athletics.

Kaneshiro knew in that moment that the story needed to be told.

“I really did sense that I didn’t know what she was talking about, having doors closed to her simply because of her gender,” he said. “Even as a minority male, nothing like that has ever impacted my life, and it touched my heart. I realized that I didn’t fully get this, but I wanted men to just kind of sit and shut up for a little bit and just listen to the stories and allow their hearts to be touched so they can understand not just the women of the past, but be sensitive to what women are dealing with today.”

We as men just carry this thing inside of us that we deserve more, or better, or first. It’s embarrassing, it’s shameful, it’s weird, but it took this journey to expose that inside of my heart.

Thus, the idea for the documentary was born. In production, Kaneshiro, producer Tiffany Taylor and co-producer Ryan Tsuji, interviewed former UH volleyball players and coaches, and influencers who lived through the passage of Title IX, including Dr. Bernice Sandler, who was instrumental in the creation of the law, and Patsy Mink’s daughter Gwendolyn. The Hawaiian-born Patsy Mink was the first woman of color to serve in Congress and is considered the mother of Title IX, which was re-named the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after her death in 2002.

Though the film’s production was largely led by men, it is women and their allies who live and tell the story. Kaneshiro said that even six years ago when filming began, it was rare for men to be involved in any sort of feminist movement.

Since then, he recognizes the nation has changed…the world has changed. Women’s rights, particularly in sport, have been further amplified in the public sphere. And Kaneshiro now proudly calls himself a feminist.

“At first, we looked at it as an overcoming story, but the more we spoke with these women, the more we recognized fire to change the world around you,” he said. “When we sat with these women, the fire in their bones – some of them were in wheelchairs, some who have passed away since we’ve interviewed them – they were ready to go into the fight, into the fray, at the drop of a hat.”

While women carry the narrative in the documentary, men are one of the primary target audiences, says Kaneshiro. Through the film, he wants more men to experience what he felt during that first interview with McLachlin in 2010 and to understand the importance and impact of Title IX legislation.

“My life has been changed; it’s changed the way I work, it’s changed the way I lead at work,” he said. “We as men just carry this thing inside of us that we deserve more, or better, or first. It’s embarrassing, it’s shameful, it’s weird, but it took this journey to expose that inside of my heart. I hope the film carries that spirit.”

For four decades, the Women’s Sports Foundation has provided educational resources for student athletes, parents, coaches and administrators about Title IX. A leading resource on Title IX research and its application, please contact WSF’s Advocacy Team if you are in need of assistance or have questions relating to Title IX. To learn more about the film and to find out how to watch, please click here.