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‘The BlackBoard’: Skater film examines Black identity at San Francisco Black Film Fest

June 13, 2016

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

The San Francisco Black Film Festival is fast approaching, and one of the best short documentaries screening is “The BlackBoard,” a film about the Black community’s relationship to Black skaters and skateboarding in the past and present. It features Black skaters from all over the country, including Karl Watson and Jabari Pendelton.

The documentary was shot by a former Black skater by the name of Marquis Bradshaw, who successfully with this film created a platform for a much needed discussion around identity in the U.S., and in particular the identity of Blackness; what does it mean to be Black.

“The BlackBoard” screens Saturday, June 18, 6-10 p.m., at Origins, 1538 Fillmore St. in San Francisco. Here is Marquis Bradshaw talking about his film.

M.O.I. JR: What inspired you most to do a documentary about Black skateboarders?

Marquis Bradshaw: The film was most inspired by the notion that Black Americans allow celebrities to set the precedent of what is acceptable behavior within the Black community. I wanted to explore this notion through the lenses of Black skaters, namely as it relates to issues of acceptance and the “Black” identity.

Marquis Bradshaw

Marquis Bradshaw

As a former skater, I can vividly recall a time when there weren’t many Black skaters and skating was not considered a socially acceptable activity within the Black community. Blacks generally considered skating to be a white, suburban, counter-culture phenomenon.

So Black skaters were routinely ostracized and called “sellout” because they fashioned a “blackboard” beneath their feet. Things have, however, changed over more recent years.

One, the population of Black skaters has grown exponentially. Two, many Black celebrities, namely in the hip hop community, have publicly embraced skateboarding by actually skateboarding and/or fashioning skateboard paraphernalia. Three, Black culture, as a whole, has become more open and notorious with their public embrace and acceptance of socially alternative lifestyles. And “The BlackBoard” critically examines this paradigm shift.

M.O.I. JR: How did you pick what skaters you wanted to feature in the film?

Marquis Bradshaw: I wanted the film to include stories of both pro and amateur skaters. I also wanted a diverse cast in terms of age so that I could compare and contrast the experiences of Black skaters from different generations.

So I went online, did my research, and began reaching out to folk via social media and telephone. Most of the folk that I reached out to did not respond. But the ones who agreed to be a part of the film connected me to other skaters.

One person who is not a skater but connected me with a lot of folk was Meaghan Mitchell. She put me in contact with the legendary Karl Watson and Jabari Pendleton, who connected me with Ron Allen, who is one of the first Black skaters to ever go pro.

M.O.I. JR: A lot of the film is about how the Black skaters got ostracized from the Black community. Why was that such an important theme for you to include?

Marquis Bradshaw: I think it’s important for us, as Black people, to create our own narratives, define ourselves in an articulate, diverse fashion, and dispel the notion of a monolithic Black identity. By exercising such agency, we not only empower ourselves individually but we push the culture forward as a whole.

'The BlackBoard' logoIn sum, I wanted “The BlackBoard” to show that we are more than just one and to inspire folk to feel comfortable expressing themselves in the face of peer ridicule.

M.O.I. JR: All the skaters in the film pointed out the influence of Lupe Fiasco, Pharrell and Lil’ Wayne on making skating more acceptable in the Black community, but they weren’t all happy about it. Can you explain some of the sentiments of the Black skaters featured?

Marquis Bradshaw: There was a big contrast between how the older and newer generations of skaters viewed this recent phenomenon. Many of the older skaters featured were either indifferent or arguably hostile to hip hop’s influence on making skating more socially acceptable in the Black community, whereas the younger generation either embraced it or were unaware that skating was ever, at any time in history, not accepted by the Black community.

M.O.I. JR: How long did you take to create the film?

Marquis Bradshaw: It took me four and a half years to make “The BlackBoard.”

M.O.I. JR: Why did you only make the film 30 minutes?

Marquis Bradshaw: Although the film is 37 minutes, it contains more than a full length film’s worth of information. It’s jam packed with action, emotion, personal narratives and non-stop entertainment. There is no filler. Every second counts.

M.O.I. JR: How has the Black community responded to “The BlackBoard” documentary so far? How have Black skaters responded?

Marquis Bradshaw: The Black community has responded very well to the “The BlackBoard.” Ebony Magazine did the world premiere of the trailer for the film. Okayplayer wrote an awesome article about the film, which received great reception and positive feedback.

Black skaters from all around the world have responded overwhelmingly well to the trailer. The experiences of the skaters in the film are very universal and not individually isolated. So their stories are easy for Black skaters – or anyone who has been ostracized for being different – to relate to.

Several of my Black skater friends actually cried after viewing rough cuts of the film. It was their emotional responses that motivated me to complete “The BlackBoard.”

M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with you?

Marquis Bradshaw: You can keep up with me through the following:

  • Website: theblackboardfilm.com
  • Facebook: facebook/theblackboardfilm/
  • Twitter: @blackboardfilms
  • Instagram: theblackboardfilm
  • Email: theblackboardfilm@gmail.com

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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