Told by her daughter Wendy, MINK! chronicles the remarkable Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Japanese American from Hawaii who became the first woman of colour elected to the U.S. Congress, on her harrowing mission to co-author and defend Title IX, the law that transformed athletics for generations in America for girls and women.
Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon, just shortly after the Watergate break-in, signed the Education Amendments of 1972. Though the Amendments filled over a hundred pages, it will be remembered for a scant but game-changing 37-word section within it known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that accept federal funding.
The law was the accomplishment of many who crafted and supported it, but one of the most pivotal was little-known Patsy Takemoto Mink. Born to middle-class Japanese American parents in Hawaii, the strong-willed and ambitious Ms. Mink was faced with race and gender discrimination throughout her youth, which led her to pursue a career in politics. Upon winning one of Hawaii’s seats in the House of Representatives in 1964, Ms. Mink became the first woman of colour ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Eight years later, Nixon would sign the landmark Title IX text into law without anticipation of the gale-force storm that would follow.
It soon became clear that Title IX would end the male monopoly over college athletics budgets, which led to the enraged awakening of the male sports lobby and their allies in Congress who sought to maintain the status quo.
Rep. Mink and her colleagues mounted a mighty opposition to defend Title IX’s integrity which culminated in a crucial vote in July 1975. In a dramatic collision of the personal and professional, Ms. Mink’s 23-year-old daughter, Wendy, was in a serious car accident on the day of the vote, which pulled Rep. Mink from the U.S. Capital during the roll call, preventing her from casting the deciding vote and threatening Title IX entirely.
The powerful and electric new 20-minute documentary, MINK!, from Academy Award® winning director Ben Proudfoot, is executive produced by tennis star Naomi Osaka via her recently launched media company Hana Kuma. It premiered on The New York Times Op-Docs (via nytimes.com and The Times’s YouTube channel) on June 23, the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the same day that Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will unveil Mink’s official portrait in the U.S. Capitol.
MINK! features Wendy Mink, Patsy’s surviving daughter, as she deftly and wryly charts Mink’s path from a young girl on the island of Maui as a third-generation descendant of Japanese immigrants and ultimately to her historic bid for Congress.
The climax of the story centers around Wendy’s untimely Ford Pinto collision that would force her mother to choose between voting in defense of Title IX and being at her daughter’s bedside. The film tells the riveting story of what happened next. And ultimately, Mink would continue to serve for over two decades in Congress, before she passed away in 2002.
MINK!, which features a moving original score by newcomer Katya Richardson accompanying a lush trove of archival film and photography chronicling Mink’s life, is the first project to premiere under Hana Kuma. The film’s executive producer Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam tennis champion, is a Japanese professional tennis player and the first Asian woman to be the top-ranked in the world. In 2020, the Associated Press chose her as Female Athlete of the Year stating that she was “as noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it.” Osaka has used her visibility to speak out about mental health and racial justice.
Wendy Mink, daughter of Patsy Mink shared, “Ben Proudfoot brilliantly interweaves two origins stories: my mother’s, and the guarantee of equity for athletics under Title IX. This kind of storytelling is so important, both to foreground the contributions of the real people behind movements for justice and to show that even grand principles are touched by lived experience. It means the world to me that Naomi Osaka and The New York Times have chosen to lift up my mother’s story.”
“Often the most significant achievements happen because of incredible individuals whose stories, unfortunately, get lost in the re-telling of history,” Naomi Osaka said. “Particularly with Title IX, we’ve mentioned the momentous effects it’s had on women’s sports but we don’t talk enough about the incredible individual who worked the system to make it happen– Patsy Takemoto Mink. Patsy was the first woman of colour in Congress, a Japanese-American woman, and I was immediately inspired by her story. Without Patsy, there is no Naomi Osaka or legions of other female athletes who got a chance because of her work. I’m also determined to continue motivating girls to compete in sports through my own non-profit, Play Academy, and I am excited to partner with Ben Proudfoot to tell Patsy’s story as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.”
“MINK! is really a spiritual prequel to The Queen of Basketball, because without Patsy Mink, I don’t think you’d have Lucy Harris,” said director Ben Proudfoot. “On the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s signing, I am so proud to once again partner with The New York Times Op-Docs and a personal role model, superstar Naomi Osaka, to help bring this important story to audiences everywhere, for free.”
Proudfoot continued: “I hope MINK! helps illuminate the precarious nature of progress in this country, the importance of persistence, and give overdue credit and glory to the foundations that American women of colour like Patsy Mink and Lucy Harris built and continue to deserve our highest recognition for.”
“This inspiring film by Ben Proudfoot highlights the arduous journey that Patsy Mink fought in the 1970s in order to bring equality to women’s athletics at the collegiate level,” said Adam Ellick, who runs Opinion Video and Op-Docs at The Times. “Ben’s film vividly documents both the behind-the-scenes moments that led to this transformative amendment and also Mink’s lifelong commitment to overcoming discrimination. The impact of her legacy remains visible today as women’s sports continue to rise in prominence.”