Last Friday, the Birmingham Blitz Dames were invited to the Empire Cinema in Rubery to help promote the roller derby film Whip It, starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore.
The Dames, pretty excited to see a mainstream film starring our favourite sport, started whipping up some excitement for the film by skating around the foyer and outside the cinema and giving badges and leaflets about roller derby to curious cinema goers.
As you may suspect, such activities tend to attract attention. But nothing attracted quite as much attention from the male cinema employees as Diamondback Belle's ass...
... and who could blame them?! ;)
For those of you who haven't read about this already, Whip It is based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, who used to skate for Los Angeles Derby Dolls under the name of Maggie Mayhem (a name shared with one of the characters in the film), she also wrote the film's screenplay.
The film follows Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a misfit from a small Texan town, who finds escape from the monotony of her family, beauty pagents and small town life by playing roller derby. The film marks Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and she also plays the role of Smashley Simpson, a lovably ditzy, yet feisty (read: violent) roller girl.
Although excited to see the film, prior to watching it the Dames did express some cynicism about how the film would actually portray derby and its roller girls. The trailers we had seen already appeared to focus on it being a teen-misfit/romance-type-story and we weren't even sure how heavily roller derby would feature in Whip It. There were a few concerns that roller derby might be glamourised in a typical Hollywood fashion in the film, or perhaps even not taken very seriously. With this at the back of some of our minds, we skated into the screen, started stuffing our faces with popcorn, and settled down to watch the film.
Having seen Whip It, and discussing it at length afterwards whilst nursing bellies full of popcorn and nachos, the Dames agreed that the film actually does roller derby and its skaters a lot of justice, and is generally feel-good, funny viewing.
Although there are certain parts of the film where it might appear that the rules are optional (fighting on the track?!), it was otherwise agreed to be a pretty good representation of what it is like to enter the world of roller derby. The way that derby can become an all-emcompassing obsession very quickly was accurately shown in the film, as well as some quite poignant moments that will strike a chord with all roller girls. Moments such as when Bliss opens the box containing her own pair for Reidells for the first time, or the comments people make in the film about whether girls with so many tattoos can find a job, comparing bruises, or chosing a skater name, raised a smile with the Dames as something all derby girls can relate to.
We also agreed that we liked the way the diversity of roller derby was shown in the film. It would have been easy to use typically 'Hollywood' pretty, big boobed, skinny actresses to play the skaters and make the whole thing very glamourous, yet, just like in any league, there was a mixture of size, race, sexuality, lifestyle and age portrayed in Whip It and one of the Mason Sisters (who skate with the LA Derby Dolls in real life) was portrayed as a deaf character. The skaters are realistic, they swear, they make rude jokes and they make mistakes (just like most of the Dames...)
It was also nice to see that roller derby was shown to empower Bliss. There was a side-plot where Ellen Page's character falls for a dashing young chap in a band, and yet when she's not happy with the situation, she ends it. No angst, no weeping, and none of that oh she got the boy and lived happily ever after rubbish. She takes control and decides what she wants, which is a refreshing change for a teenage love story and made the Dames breathe a sigh of relief that Whip It was not just the slushy chick flick that it seemed to have been promoted as.
In some ways however, the film was quite formulaic in a sports/coming of age movie kind of sense, though this may have been necessary to widen the appeal of Whip It to an audience who may not be aware of anything about what is essentially still an underground sport in this country. The Dames agree that Whip It was definitely has the potential to spread roller derby to the masses and it is a shame that it was not promoted better, as the trailers seemed to focus on Bliss' not fitting in and then finding a boy, rather than pushing how awesome roller derby is (then again, we would say that wouldn't we?!)
Overall, the Dames were pleasantly surprised with Whip It. We laughed (a lot) we cringed (in all the right places) and we all identified with someone in the film. If we weren't already wearing our skates in the screening, Whip It would definitely have made us want to strap some wheels on and find out what this roller derby thing is really all about.
Fancy being your own hero?
If you've seen Whip It (or even if you haven't) and fancy trying out roller derby for yourself, come to Birmingham Blitz Dames' next induction session on Saturday 1st May 2010, 9.30am at Stockland Green Leisure Centre, Birmingham. Unlike in the film, it doesn't matter if you've never skated before and we can lend you the skates and safety equipment you'll need.
Or, if you'd prefer to watch first, Birmingham Blitz Dames are bouting against Leeds Roller Dolls on Saturday 24th April 2010, 2pm at Leeds University. Tickets are available now from http://www.leedsrollerdolls.co.uk for only £6!
Birmingham Blitz Dames would like to thank all the staff at the Empire Cinema in Rubery for their awesome hospitality, and for letting us skate around their cinema!