A Community On Wheels

“Old school, new school, y’all get on the floor for this one.  Represent.” Pure Nonfiction at IFC opened its Winter 2019 season with this line from the highly anticipated new documentary, United Skates.  What followed was a fascinating and exuberant look into the intensively creative and close-knit underground African-American roller skating community.

The film follows three lifelong skaters who take us into this vibrant community: Phelicia in Los Angeles, Reggie in North Carolina, and Buddy Love in Chicago.  It’s through them we learn about the differences between regional skate styles, unique skate shoe trends, and the connective tissue that unites all skating communities.  Phelicia proclaims, “I’m considered a rink rat, I was born and raised in the rink.” Reggie follows with “roller skating brought me a sense of community and a sense of culture.”  And lastly, Buddy remarks “this is where we can let our hair hang down.”

With this film, Directors Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler open a window to this incredible community, but they also shine a light on the ingrained racism that now faces the African-American skating populace.  With rinks closing by the hundreds across the country in favor of businesses that create sales tax for municipalities, and those remaining open shifting their focus away from “adult nights,” the sense of identity has been damaged over the past few decades.  Whereas the rink used to be a place of peace - members of the infamous Bloods and Crips gangs once shared the floor at L.A.’s World on Wheels - now, there’s simply no peaceful place to gather. As Reggie explains at one point in the film, “adult nights have to survive for us to survive.”  

Described by his wife as the man “who was born to keep skating alive,” Reggie reflected on his unique community in the Q&A following the film.  Describing the film, he remarked “This is one of those projects that it takes the whole community to make, and I mean everyone.” Director Tina Brown felt the same way about the sense of closeness she encountered.  “Every time we tried to walk away, the skaters kept pulling us back in… in the end we felt we were chosen by the community to tell the story.” Reggie agreed, and was appreciative the filmmakers allowed him to share his goals, saying “You wanna produce productive individuals out into the community.  How do you do that? You put them in community spaces and you share ideas. You share love.”

United Skates premieres on HBO on Monday, February 18th, 2019 and in the meantime, all other progress can be followed at https://www.unitedskatesfilm.com.