How Black & Brown Women Are Reclaiming Roller Skating Culture

Amy Collado is wearing gold hoop earrings, a blue bandana, and vintage-style glasses for our Zoom conversation. She’s sitting in front of a collection of records and a poster of André 3000, and I feel like I’ve traveled back in time. She’s like that cool young tía that we all grew up loving, but instead of sharing her latest discount store find, she’s passionately talking about the rising interest in roller skating culture on social media.

With many seeking out nostalgic pursuits during times of social isolation, roller skating catapulted into viral popularity last year for able-bodied folks, with Google searches of the throwback sport skyrocketing and some roller skating TikTok videos garnering over 10 million views. Collado, the founder of Club Butter Roll — a social media wellness platform launched several years ago that encourages skating for Black and Brown communities — tells me that her platform grew immense interest over the past year. “People were quarantined and wanted to be outside. Roller skating just so happened to be one of the few things that people latched onto,” she says. But while roller skating has seen a rise in popularity recently, Black and Brown women found safety and joy through skating long before it was dubbed a quarantine trend.
Roller skating is deeply tied to early hip-hop culture. Rappers like Queen Latifah and N.W.A. performed at the now-closed Skateland rolling rink in the mid-1980s when other venues shunned Black acts. Meanwhile, every city had — and continues to have — its own signature skating style from Los Angeles to Chicago. Historically, skating dates back to the civil rights movement, when Black skaters protested desegregated rinks in the 1960s. Documentaries like United Skates, which premiered in 2018, showcases the significance of skating rinks for Black communities and the Black activists who were fighting to keep rinks open as they faced closures. “You can take the goddamn building, but you can’t take the spirit,” a DJ says in the film. It’s a quote that still resonates.


In 2020, millions took to the streets and to social media worldwide to protest police brutality and systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis. This global reckoning helped drive the conversation around racial disparities — including within skating culture.


“Since [Black Lives Matter] was existing at the same time as this trend of roller skating was blowing up, a lot of people did feel the need, including myself, to make sure that people acknowledge the history of roller skating and acknowledge POC skaters and how long we’ve been doing this,” says Liliana Ruiz, an Afro-Latina skater who’s been skating since she was a kid and worked at the L.A.-famous skating rink World On Wheels. But for Black and Brown skaters, it was about more than just acknowledgment. They were finding a sense of escapism and joy as they rolled down the same streets where they had previously been left unprotected. When the reality of racial injustice became too taxing, skating was the revolutionary way to reclaim their joy.

It’s important to note that while Black and Brown skaters are finding joy in skating, rink closures and social-distancing guidelines amid the pandemic have forced them to only skate outside, which presents its own set of dangers for people of color. Ruiz enjoys skating in Venice Beach and being able to connect with others who’ve been skating there for decades, but she has found that skaters have had to change parks because of racial profiling incidents. “It used to be a different part of Venice Beach, but there were a lot of incidents with the police because of racism and prejudice towards the music and the people who are skating and occupying the space,” she says. Still, these acts of violence haven’t stopped them from building communities within the sport.
Skating has also provided some skaters of color with a COVID safe activity during a pandemic that is disproportionately infecting and killing Black and Brown Americans at disturbingly high rates. Being forced to isolate for the safety of her family is what made Mala Muñoz, content creator and host of Locatora Radio, dust off her skates after years of not using them.


“For me, safety is really important because I live with my grandparents. I cannot be fucking around,” she says during our Zoom call, referring to the higher risks of severe illness for elders infected by the virus.


The L.A.-born and raised Chicana says she grew up skating and going to birthday parties at skating rinks but stopped right before college when everything in her life as a young Latina pivoted towards securing a career — a reality that is familiar to many children in immigrant and low-income families. For Black and Brown communities, engaging in activities simply for pleasure can feel wrong or even shameful when their families are suffering from economic inequality and oppression. This leads to many young POC adults prioritizing their careers and pushing leisure aside.


“I stopped because if it’s not getting you awards and accolades, not getting you into college, not a future career prospect, then why keep doing it?” she says. “I felt very discouraged from having fun and pursuing different types of hobbies like [skating].”
Now, Muñoz is learning to embrace feeling unapologetic joy through skating, acknowledging how Black skating culture has allowed her to feel like there is nothing wrong with dedicating time to leisure, although she had been taught otherwise. “I can be a grown woman and writer with a business and a podcast, all of these things while fucking around on my skates,” she says. “I can learn new tricks and make new friends just because — and that’s fine.”

The Drama Of Trauma

Trauma — the damage done to a people through acts of violence, whether in a moment during a massacre or over a prolonged period of oppression — is a thread running through many of the international features competing in this year’s Oscar race: The raw horror of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo Vadis, Aida?, from Bosnia and Herzegovina; the all-but-forgotten 1962 Soviet state massacre of striking factory workers in Russia’s Dear Comrades!, from director Andrei Konchalovsky; the hidden horror, and thirst for revenge for unpunished atrocities, that seeps through Jayro Bustamante’s genre tale La Llorona, Guatemala’s official Oscar entry; Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings for Ivory Coast that struggles to find meaning in the violent legacy of colonialism and more recent political upheavals through a combination of storytelling techniques both Western and traditional; and Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin, for Tunisia, which takes as its central theme the exploitation of Syrian refugees, even the exploitation of their trauma itself.

From left: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Quo Vadis, Aida?, Russia’s Dear Comrades!, Ivory Coast’s Night of the Kings, Tunisia’s The Man Who Sold His Skin and Guatemala’s La Llorona.


It’s notable that this year’s International Feature Oscar shortlist does not include any films on the Holocaust, the central trauma of the 20th century. It’s a rare exception. The Nazi genocide of European Jews, or its traumatic aftermath, is the subject of such Oscar winners as Son of Saul (Hungary, 2015), Ida (Poland, 2014), The Counterfeiters (Austria, 2007) and Nowhere in Africa (Germany, 2002). Instead, this year’s contenders look at national stories that have been largely forgotten or passed over despite their very real and continuing impact on their people and societies left behind.


It was 25 years ago that Bosnian Serbs, led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, gathered up 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys near the town of Srebrenica, bused them to killing sites, shot them and dumped the bodies into mass graves. U.N. peacekeeping troops did nothing. Zbanic, whose 2006 Oscar-nominated debut, Grbavica, examined the aftermath of the massacre — in particular the mass rape of Muslim women by Bosnian Serb soldiers — goes directly to the source with Quo Vadis, Aida? The film tracks the horrific events as seen through the eyes of a Bosnian translator (played by Serbian actress Jasna Djuricic), as she tries to push the U.N. commanders to intervene while racing against time to save her husband and two sons from the coming slaughter.
There have been endless hours of documentary and newsreel footage about Srebrenica. There has been a criminal trial of Mladic — who in 2017 was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity— but Quo Vadis, Aida? has become the definitive film of this European tragedy.


The 1962 Novocherkassk massacre was not covered by CNN. The shootings of peaceful striking factory workers by the Soviet state police — estimates vary, but at least 26 protesters were killed and perhaps as many as 87 wounded — were wiped from Russia’s official history. The cover-up began immediately after the killings, when Moscow imposed a nationwide news blackout. The story remained hidden until 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Konchalovsky reflects that sense of censored memory in Dear Comrades! by shooting his movie in the style of the elliptical, state-approved Soviet films of the period, complete with a tacked-on, deliberately hollow happy ending. Like Quo Vadis, Aida?, it tells its traumatic tale through the eyes of a determined, relentless woman: loyal Soviet apparatchik Lyudmila (Julia Vysotskaya), a faithful Stalinist who initially sees the strikers as traitors to the state, before the guns start firing.
In his Oscar contender, Guatemalan director Bustamante looks at the state massacre of ethnic Mayan civilians in the 1980s (also known as the Silent Holocaust) by reinterpreting the folktale of a vengeful spirit — The Weeping Woman, or La Llorona — into a cry for social justice. In the original tale, the ghost is the guilty one — a mother who drowns her two children and is cursed to walk the world mourning them.


Bustamante turns her into a vengeful spirit, haunting the guilty conscience of Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz), on trial for crimes of genocide committed against the Mayan peasants when he was president. Monteverde is a stand-in for real-life former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who was indicted for genocide but pardoned by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. In La Llorona, unlike in real life, Mayan victims get to confront the general and bring him to task for his crimes against humanity. As with this year’s Russian and Bosnian entries, the heart of Guatemala’s Oscar hopeful is its strong women, foremost María Mercedes Coroy as the vengeful spirit and Sabrina De La Hoz as the aging general’s disenchanted daughter.
Men — a Syrian refugee and inmates of an Ivory Coast prison — are center stage in the two African contenders for best international feature. Both films — Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin and Lacôte’s Night of the Kings — take a complex approach to telling stories of national trauma. Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) is a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon and desperate to travel to Europe to reunite with his lover, Abeer (Dea Liane). In desperation, he enters a Faustian pact: agreeing to let an artist use Sam’s back as a human canvas for an enormous tattoo of a Schengen visa, the document needed to gain entry into Europe. As an actual piece of art and a working commodity, Sam is free to travel across borders, something not possible for Sam the human being. Part political commentary, part moral satire on the art industry, The Man Who Sold His Skin is also a knowing critique of how stories of trauma — like this movie itself — themselves exploit the suffering of the people they depict.


Lacôte’s Night of the Kings is perhaps the most complex film on the Oscar shortlist. Set in Ivory Coast’s infamous La Maca prison, it is a modern-day One Thousand and One Nights. Like Scheherazade, a new prisoner called Roman (Bakary Koné) is tasked with inventing a tale that will keep his audience of fellow criminals captivated until the morning light or face execution. What follows is an intoxicating hybrid of storytelling styles, with Lacôte borrowing from Shakespeare and cinema — Fernando Meirelles’ Brazilian crime drama City of God is name-checked — and combining them with the oral tradition of the West African griot, in which history is told through narrative, music, poetry and dance. Roman’s story knits together the personal and the political. Lacôte at one point splices in clips of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to accept electoral defeat in 2011 plunged the country into violence.
What emerges is the narrative of a man and, by extension, a nation struggling to survive and to overcome the damage of the distant and recent past. As with all the tales of trauma on this year’s International Feature shortlist, the fight is as much about the story as about who gets to tell it. READ MORE: https://apple.news/ANBsEMcsvT4y9XQ795ZR2GA