Interview with Blackboard director Marquis Bradshaw      

Date:16 June 2017

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 Marchs 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, were based in Amsterdam, were 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 ones 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.