As America’s last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, UNITED SKATES spotlights a community of thousands who fight in a racially charged environment to save the underground African-American subculture of roller skating, which has been overlooked by the mainstream for generations, while giving rise to great musical talents.
Dyana & Tina, producers & directors of United Skates were at a/perture cinema early on Monday to speak to G.A.P. (girls and production) and then spoke again for the audience of the screening (pictured left).
Rashad (moderator): When we’re talking about culture and building culture as it relates to the Roller Rinks – what kind of connect, were there any new connections that you had with either the people or the skating rinks or the childhood memories that you connect with during the course of this film that you might want to share? Something that you connected with that you wanted to share?
Tina (cinematographer / director): Being the only Aussie in the room, yes, haha. Even being in America is new and different for me. I’ve been here for 12 years and we spent 5 years working on this film. So half my time in this country has been spent in this community. So it’s really impacted my view of America and my experience here. I just love this community so much. And as far as my background, I grew up skating in school and going to birthday parties and that sort of thing and hadn’t pursued it any more than that. I had a deep appreciation for what they were achieving on skates. I have a lot of background in producing content for sporting events, like the Olympics and the Superbowl, US Open Tennis so dealing with athletes of that level and that caliber I could easily see how these skaters were on that same level and weren’t being recognized in that same way. For me, when I first walked into that rink and I saw this amazing athleticism on the floor, that’s what I was immediately attracted to. I could see that level of athleticism. Then obviously it got deeper and there were so many more levels to it and we became part of the community and we have filmed on skates, so we can sort of skate haha. We’ve become apart of this community after all this time. I feel really proud of what we achieved.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): I was just going to say, we really became a part of this community, we were like family. Nadera, Reggie’s wife, she calls herself Nadera Winkler because that’s my last name. We love them and they love us a lot. We spent a lot of time with them. After the film, we actually screened it for them. We got into Tribeca and we didn’t have time. We were literally rushing just to get it, we brought it on the plane with us, just to get it to the festival. We couldn’t show it to skaters yet. So we decided since the first national skate event was coming up in Detroit we would go to it. So we flew to Detroit and had a big screening so all the skaters could come and see it and it was so nerve wracking because, you know, we joke, John Legen and Salt-n-Pepa were in the audience and we were more nervous in Detroit with the skaters because this film was for them. Their stamp of approval meant the most to us, really. So, at the very end, we got a big standing ovation and we started crying and everyone in the theater was crying. The applause went on and on and on and someone stood up and said, “I feel like this film was made by one of us” and then someone else stood up, “5 years and 500 hundred hours in our community, they are one of us!” We walked away from this film with an army of friends.
Rashad (moderator): We saw in the film as well that Roller Rinks are disappearing and with a lot of us in this room that frequented roller rinks when we were growing up, we are losing that connection. Why do you believe that Roller Rinks are disappearing? and, During the filming of this did you guys want to develop your own skates?
Dyana (cinematographer / director): Those are really different questions. So, why they closing is really complicated. And the truth is they are closing for different reasons in different parts of the country. We tried to find one thing that united all of those rinks that are closing and that’s money really, and zoning. So every single community space that has closed, forget just roller rinks, it’s all spaces used for our communities they’re being re-zoned for commercial value. So, really, we tried to have a theme of our film to be what is the value of community vs commercialism. When you’re not making physical money does that really mean that it’s not worth saving? Really that’s what we’ve seen happen in this country and we feel like very quickly, wherever you go, it’s going to be the same 10 big box stores and same chain stores because we’re losing everything that makes each town you go to unique and special. So these roller rinks are a reflection of a much greater challenge that I think we all have. So what we try to encourage to everyone who sees this film is to care about community spaces and care about this community you saw and others, to vote, to know your local representatives because a lot of them are in bed with realtors and real estate developers and they’re getting paid to change these spaces because you make a whole lot more money when it turns into a store that has sales tax because everything that gets sold gets more money back to the city and you don’t make that money when it’s a community space. So, knowing who your local representatives are and what they stand for and going and making a point to say that this matters is a start.
Tina (cinematographer / director): I think if there is a meeting because developers do have to have public meetings about what they are proposing to do then you need to show up. You need to show up and ask those questions and a lot of the times people don’t show up so it gets pushed through. So if you have the time that’s one thing you can do to make a change. AND as far as the skates, we love the L.A. custom skates. That’s something we are really drawn to and maybe one day we can do a specific United Skates one, they’re pretty cool skates.
Rashad (moderator): I wanted to make a comment about the public and community spaces being shut down, honestly during this film I was like, “man the roller rinks are not places that we go to every day, but just because we don’t go to them every day doesn’t mean we don’t want them to be there when we want to utilize them, right?” So I’m thinking if we’re shutting down roller rinks, what’s next? Is it the community pool? Is it a bowling alley? or a movie theater? So what do we do then when those spaces are getting shut down and we don’t pay attention to them so they take them away. So, please pay attention to your local government. The question that I had was coming back to the different styles of skating, can you talk about the different styles of skating as they relate to the state?
Dyana (cinematographer / director): In terms of the skate styles I think that was the hardest… Ohio had three different styles for three different cities… we would obviously love to have a spin-off and have another series that goes deeper.
Tina (cinematographer / director): We obviously had the skaters in mind when we were making this film, but we were thinking bigger than that and we wanted to appeal to audiences that weren’t skaters that had never seen or heard of this culture before. So as a filmmaker that was our responsibility, to make sure we could get as many eyes on this film as possible because with that then we could make lasting change hopefully. So there were a lot of hard decisions that we had to make and that’s why we jam-packed a lot more skating in the credits.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): As a story-teller when we first saw the beauty and the celebration of the skating we didn’t think that would sustain the movie because there also has to be conflict and there have to be deeper issues that are important to tell. And it really was when the skaters started to say, “Well, if you come to Kentucky our night is Thursday or if you come to Philadelphia our night is Sunday,” and we started asking -“what do you mean your night?” That’s when we started to realize – and then – when we would go on different nights the police wouldn’t be there and when we would go on different nights metal detectors wouldn’t be there, and we could see the blatant difference of how the skaters were being treated. There was one shot where we were filming with the guy who has a kid on his shoulders, and it pans, and there are just cop cars all around them. It’s families taking their kids to skate.
Tina (cinematographer / director): I just wanted to add that we did a lot of research as well we spoke to a professor of history and she spent ten years researching writing a book about “race, rights, and roller coasters” and in the end she was talking about the three hardest spaces to desegregate during the civil rights era, three hardest public spaces, were amusement parks, public pools, and roller rinks. So she’d done so much research into this it was very interesting. When we spoke to her about it that laid the foundation of the historical aspect of the film and it was interesting to us that a lot of the skaters didn’t even know the meaning of “adult night” or where that came from. That had this deep history, but they just knew it as their night. So a lot of the skaters had to be educated about that through this film.
Rashad (moderator): Yeah, that was a piece that I picked up in the film as well, with the season of folks and how long they had been going to the roller rink and how much of a release it was for them to come during the sixties during a very turbulent time in America. So I thought that, that was kind of cool to see that they were still supporting the roller rinks and it still brought that same joy to them. I’d like to open the floor for questions from the audience.
Audience member: So I had no idea there were all these layers to roller skating. I want to say that I was glad you put Memphis in there, “we made it!” So, my question to you is, “were you ever scared?”
Tina (cinematographer / director): I think you know the first time that we walked into a rink, we talk about this a lot, was really monumental we immediately just felt the love in the room. And, the joy and the family aspect of it. No one was using their actual lockers they were throwing their bags and just leaving them on the ground. They told us, “oh you can just leave your stuff there,” and we were like, “what?” You know, you just don’t do that. How do you know in these thousands of people that no one is going to steal anything? Just in general, this is a public space and it just grew from that. We never had a problem and we honestly never felt unsafe. We’ve gone into areas, we went into Shake n’ Bake in Baltimore – don’t know if you know that rink? But, we went there at midnight for another event and we got stopped by the police and they wouldn’t let us go through. They said, “you girls shouldn’t be here at night, this is a bad part of Baltimore,” and we said, “it’s fine we’re just going to the roller rink and film our skaters, we just need to go through here and either way we’re going to find a back road to get there so you’re either going to tell us how we’re going to get there or we’re going to find our own way,” and so they just let us through and they were very angry at us. But, this is what we faced all the time, we were told we shouldn’t be in this area and that we weren’t safe. Yet we always felt the safest when we were with our skaters in this community.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): And on that question of fear we are usually asked that question by a white person and our response is typically, “why should we be scared? and what is it in our culture that tells us we should be scared? So, I’m curious to ask you, “why should we be scared or why do you think we should be scared?”
Audience Member: People do get shot in parking lots and it was in your film.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): No, that is true. I think that violence exists in every culture honestly and we didn’t address it as much as perhaps we could have, we talked about that a lot, that there are shootings in parking lots. We did keep that in for that reason and actually that day in Baltimore that Tina was talking about was happening because there had been shooting not far from the rink that night, drug-related. And typically that is the situation, that they’re not the skaters that are apart of the shootings it’s because the skating rinks are often in poorer parts of town, parts of town where there are drugs, where there is crime that’s going to exist, but we hope that people are smart enough to understand that no matter the color of your skin there’s good and bad people, and there are violence and non-violence.
Tina (cinematographer / director): The rink owner in Charlotte has said that he’s had more trouble at his family Christmas party than having this community in his rink so I think that sums it all up.
Audience Member: Why do you think that a place that has so much love, enjoyment, and fun causes so many other people discomfort?
Tina (cinematographer / director): I think that it comes back to systemic racism and there’s so much in this country. That’s why we have to make films like this to educate people, to lure them in with the skating and obviously that’s the spoon full of sugar. That’s why we have to stand up and that’s why we have to be allies and defend those that can’t defend themselves and speak up.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): I will add that one of the things we learned is that fake news is not new. It’s been happening for a very long time in our country. The same historian that Tina was talking about earlier, she actually spent a lot of her time researching crimes that had happened during the civil rights era of black men raping white women for example or things like if you swim in a swimming pool with an African-American you’ll get a disease, these were headlines of newspapers that were scaring people and if you didn’t know better than you believed that to be the truth of the time and that was that era’s fake news. There’s so much danger in that because that carries on for a long time and that ripple effect of fear, I think we still have in our country today, but the root of that really started a long time ago. So dispelling those fears takes a lot of time, unfortunately, that was part of our ripple making this film.
Audience Member: When you start to think about economic mobility, it’s really about the communities ability to think about what’s important when you looked at your documentary you saw that opposing gangs were actually in one space and able to call that a truce in that space. So, it’s really about community and what we value as important. When we look at Winston-Salem our bus system, transportation is necessary when you think about economic mobility. Just as these community centers are. We really have to save what we value in a community because what’s important, WSTA runs in the red every year, but it’s important that you start to think about economic mobility, but for those of you that don’t know Winston-Salem ranks at the very bottom of the lsit across counties in the entire country for economic mobility, so, you have to start to think differently about what’s important to a community.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): You’re all really lucky that you’re in a state where your vote is quite powerful. You’re a swing state. You’re a state where every single one of you matters at the polls. I mean, Tina and I were from small towns, but we’ve moved to New York and Los Angeles because that’s where the jobs are, but votes, in general, don’t mean much in states like that because of how our system works. You are fortunate in this state that your votes do matter a lot so we encourage all of you to vote locally. To vote for what matters to you and to not take that lightly, but you’re right it’s about community rallying together to fight what is ours and what we deserve to have.
Tina (cinematographer / director): You can continue this and continue to support the film, we are on HBO, we premiered on HBO last month. But, have people over, have a watch party and spread that. This is why we made this film. Not just to have a one off screening and that’s it. We want to continue this conversation and this will help.
Dyana (cinematographer / director): And on that note, numbers really matter and we are two women filmmakers where all of the main characters in the story are black and so by simply going to HBO and watching it and telling your friends to watch it, that tells HBO that content like this matters and that filmmakers like us deserve to make films. So honestly, even just telling people that you liked it and that it’s worth the watch on HBO means a lot. So, thank you!
photography & blog post by a/ staff Kristen Bryant