There's a conversation in the documentary Derby Crazy Love that perfectly summarizes both female roller derby's feminist appeal and its stark difference from other, more-mainstream sports. Derby player Smack Daddy is explaining it's about exploring that inner territory where "you are superbadass, tough, and edgy. But then just because you're hard-core and edgy doesn't mean that you have to be a douchebag."
For as much as the sport embraces strength and fierce competition, derby's main ethos of community, sisterhood, and inclusiveness is helping to change the perception of women in sports. Derby Crazy Love will screen at Jump the Shark this Friday with the help of the Gold Coast Derby Grrls. We recently spoke with one of the documentary's creators, Maya Gallus of Red Queen Productions Inc., about derby's crossroads as the sport gains more mass appeal, the changing landscape of competitive sports, and the importance of a good and sarcastic derby name.
NewTimes: You have chronicled social issues mostly about women like in Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service and Punch Like a Girl. Why roller derby as a subject?
Maya Gallus: It totally fits in with our ethos -- third-wave feminist, DIY, inclusive. Our mission is to put strong female role models on the screen, and with roller derby, that's a no-brainer. These women are powerful and smart and sassy. Plus, we had made a documentary and series about women's boxing, called Punch Like a Girl, several years ago, and it was really popular. People began asking us when we were going to make a film about roller derby. Finally, one of our film editors was a roller-derby gal, and so we went to the inaugural world cup in Toronto. And it just clicked.
Was there something inherently feminist about the sport to you as a documentarian? Many of the players in the film highlight the aspects of sisterhood that comes with the sport, the positivity, the inclusiveness of it that might not come in other sports. What is it about roller derby versus other mainstream sports?
It's female-dominated and player-owned and -operated, which already distinguishes it from any other sport. You don't have to be one shape or size to play in this sport, so it's totally inclusive. It has an anarchic history, sort of rising up from the flames of old-school roller derby, and that's very feminist. Women know how to work together in community, with few resources, and make something happen. That's what roller derby is about, a bunch of people who are passionate about the sport and share the same values.
The sport has grown tremendously over the last several years from a mostly subculture sport to mainstream. With documenting any subculture, there is that notion that once it becomes more mainstream, with exposure, it loses something along the way. Was there ever that thought with this film?
Yes, we did have a feeling that we were documenting this sport at a very special time. Roller derby is definitely at a crossroads. The top players want to go bigger; they'd like to get paid, and that makes sense -- some of them are poised to be superstars. At the same time, the leagues are determined to hold onto their independence, their freedom, and their individuality. Is it possible for both to coexist? Who knows? They're constantly reinventing themselves; that's part of the evolution of roller derby.
We personally love the crazy names and kooky outfits, so we would miss that if it got totally phased out. You know, the counterculture aspect is the heart of roller derby. But that will always exist at the more grassroots levels; it's really just with the top leagues and players that we'll see big changes in the years to come.
For many of the players in the film, this is tapping into what one member called "badass territory" where they get to explore this tough side of themselves, many for the first time as full-blown adults. Does this speak to a culture of what the #LikeAGirl commercial that played during the Super Bowl addressed of the trappings of keeping girls away from athleticism, toughness, competition, and the societal stereotypes that go along with it? Do you feel roller derby is helping quash that?
Yeah, absolutely. When women and girls come to see our film, they feel so empowered and inspired to explore their own power.
It's interesting; when we made our boxing series Punch Like a Girl, the title was totally ironic, as none of the women in the series were sissies. With Derby Crazy Love, same thing. Suzy Hotrod talks about growing up with her brother, and when somebody hits her, she hits back instead of asking, "Ouch. Why did you hit me?"... That's the point: Women can be strong and tough and assertive and be celebrated for that.
The film follows Montreal's New Skids on the Block. Many American viewers may have been aware of derby's popularity here but maybe not as much in Canada. But in Canada, the sport is truly blowing up. Anything you were surprised to learn?
I think the sport is blowing up everywhere, certainly internationally. More and more leagues just keep coming up. In Canada, many people are ice skaters or hockey players for recreation, and it's a natural thing to go from ice skates to roller-derby skates.
Any surprises? Well, just what a passionate community it is, all around the world, and the people we were shooting with were so open and welcoming, so happy to get the word out about this amazing sport. Everyone helped us to make this the best film possible.
The importance of a good and snarky derby name seems to be paramount. So a quick test: Beyonce, Amy Poehler, Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- what would their roller-derby names be?
Hmmm, Beyonce the Butt comes to mind, but otherwise, nothing comes to mind. But I can tell you our roller-derby names. Justine Pimlott is The Fierce Twig (from the days when she played field hockey) and Maya Gallus, being Hungarian, is Tracula.
Derby Crazy Love will be part of Jump the Shark's Movie Night Friday, 7 p.m. Friday, February 20. at 810 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Hosted by South Florida's own derby queens, Gold Coast Derby Grrls. The night includes drinks, sweets, popcorn, performances by the Shakers and the Alarmists, derby chat, and film screening. Tickets cost $10.
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