Reflecting Cities showcases stories from the peripheries and inner cities which question and bring issues such as police brutality, identity and representation and self-determination to the forefront. The documentary film The Blackboard offers insight into everyday lives of black skaters, because of this theme of March’s edition of the film screening series we decided to do a small e-interview with the Blackboard director Marquis Bradshaw.
Metro54: Marquis, thanks for your willingness to gives us more insight into the processes and themes of the documentary. Perhaps, you could tell us more about how you got into
skate culture and what it meant to you to be the one of the few Black skaters?
Marquis: I immersed myself in skate culture as a kid growing up in a relatively cultural diverse community. I was a bit of a dare devil and admired acrobatic-like activities, such as skateboarding, rollerblading, and martial arts. The idea of doing stunts and overcoming obstacles was very appealing to me as a youth. I was bit of an adrenaline junkie; I liked the idea of forging my own path and thought skating was very cool. I was the only black skater in my neighborhood, in my school, and in my group of skater friends.
Being a black skater was a very lonesome and isolating experience, at times, for me. I faced a lot of ostracism within the black community because I was doing what many blacks believed was a “white boy” sport. Being a black skater was also a very rewarding experience. It helped me build character, think outside the box, and broaden my world view.
Black Skaters have been around for decades across the globe. In the Netherlands (Amsterdam, specifically), one of the first, infamous Black skaters was Clyde Semmoh in the 1980s. Since, we’re based in Amsterdam, we’re also interested in how you would situate this documentary in a larger and more global Black counterculture?
Shout outs to Clyde Semmoh and all other skaters, both past and present, who had the courage to follow their passion and express themselves in an honest fashion.
The themes explored by “The Blackboard” are universal, especially as they relate to the broader context of what it means to be Black and to be counterculture. The film is a piece of a larger puzzle of global Black counterculture. It aims to strip apart the fashion of a monolithic black identity while advancing the proposition that black cultural expression is pluralistic and cannot be encapsulated.
The experiences of black skaters are not wholly unique in relation to existing on the outskirts of mainstream black identity. I would argue that blacks in the punk rock scene and in the co-splay scene, for example, share a similar space. I think the film is successful in that it challenges its audiences to confront the question of what it truly means to be black.
The documentary attempts to complicate Black cultural identities by focusing on Black skate culture, what has the response been so far from general audiences and Black communities? We are also curious about how the pain of being excluded in one’s own community and the desire to pass within majority white skate culture also creates some sort of a friction?
“The Blackboard” has been fortunate to receive great response from various audiences and communities across the world. The response from the Black community has been very emotional and personal. Some black audience members have stated that the film reflected their own personal experiences as a black skater and/or as a black person in general, namely as it relates to doing something that is not stereotypically considered black.
Non-black audience members have also had a positive reaction to the film; some have stated that they found the themes and issues explored by the film to be very relatable and to transcend race.
Being excluded in one’s own community is emotionally taxing. It is a horrible feeling; very painful. Such pain has encouraged many black skaters to quit skating and to adopt more stereotypical roles of black identity to fit in with mainstream society.
What was the process of creating and producing this documentary like? And what do you hope to achieve by making these stories and biographies visible?
The process of creating and producing the Blackboard was very personal; it was a very intimate process. I knew that releasing such a film would expose me and all those involved to a great degree of vulnerability. I was putting my experiences and imagination on a stage for the world to see, which could be terrifying, but everyone involved with the film knew our story had to be told. The film making process involved me reaching out to various skaters via social media, namely Facebook, and asking if they would be interested in sharing their stories in my film. Most skaters did not reply. The vast majority of those who did said, no. Initially, building a cast was a struggle but I was fortunate to connect with an amazing ensemble of skaters with very unique stories yet similar experiences. Filming “The Blackboard” was the easiest part; editing the film provided the greatest challenges. Post production was a very stressful and lonely process.It was difficult to finish the film. There were times where I thought I lacked the ability to do the film justice. I almost gave up. It was not until I unveiled a rough cut of several scenes to two skater friends and saw their emotional responses that my burning desire to finish the film was rekindled. I hope that “The Blackboard’ promotes and encourages honest discussions about race, identity, and self expression. Additionally, I want the film to challenge what it means to be human.
What kind of music were you listening to while creating the documentary? Would you perhaps like to share two or three links to youtube?
I was listening to the amazing music of DFLN (Derrick Curtis) while creating the documentary. DFLN wrote and composed the musical score for the film. DFLN was a multi-talented musician/instrumentalist. His sound knew no boundaries. He pushed the limits of jazz fusion, electronic music, soul, and hip hop. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. The world lost a beautiful mind but his music will live forever. RIP DFLN.