Director Defends Rollbounce

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Editor’s Note: This is the film director’s response to Black Star News reviewer Kam Williams’ article about RollBounce: You are totally off-base and way out of line with these comments about my film in your review. I'm surprised you had such a visceral reaction to what I feel is a feel-good coming of age story. Sure it's nothing new, but you are taking some of the dialogue way too literally. I definitely will tell you why I disagree with you, but at the end of the day, it's just an opinion.

Considering the era (circa 1978), Kam, we as a people were far less enlightened when it came to Africa, skin-color and hair-texture (and some of us, unfortunately, are still unenlightened). And you mislead your readers by accusing the film of being misogynist when one of the strongest characters in the film is TORI (with an  "R") and she is NOT a love interest for X. Why would you think she's X's potential love interest? Because she's the first girl we meet? Because in coming of age stories the lead male is supposed to eventually fall for the Ugly Duckling with the heart of Gold?

Vivian (Kellita Smith) is an attorney and, yes, she's scantily clad in her first scene but she proves to be a sensitive and supportive neighbor and friend.  And the notion that Naomi (Meagan Good) doesn't want to be kissed by X? Hello? She's been after him the entire film. She's shocked he finally came around. That's why she doesn't immediately answer the call to change the TV channel. I suppose her planting a big one on him after the skate-off was just happenstance?

As far as the butt-slapping is concerned (not "hiney squeezing" as you put it) admittedly it's wrong for guys to touch girls where they don't want to be touched. But again, considering the era which wasn't enlightened when it came to women's rights or sexual harassment this kind of teenage boy ritual was part of growing up. Could the girl have gotten some "get-back"? Absolutely, but you can't put all of it in one movie. This is what DVD extras were made for. I dare you to tell me you never ogled a girl's behind or gave it a friendly slap in the adolescent guise of "I like you". And even if you didn't, I guarantee growing up on the mean streets of New York you got some boys who did. But if you were the 15-year-old defender of all teenage girls who got subjected to stupid hormonally charged boys ("Come on man. That's misogynist!"), then I stand corrected. But if you weren't, then you know that butt-slapping, playing the dozens (yes, even talking about hair texture and skin-color), and being home before the street-light became fully illuminated are all touchstones of growing up Black and that is what I tried to reflect.

Furthermore, Kam, statements like "the characters are borderline retarded",  "every dark skinned character is a skid-mark" or "a nigger", "the gainfully employed are Uncle Toms" and this film is "an exercise in dehumanization" are all gross exaggerations. Consider the source of some these comments: from comic and somewhat foolish characters, "nigga" is used once by Charlie Murphy the entire film. The Best Man and Undercover Brother used this word much more liberally and as far as profanity goes, beside the 4 (maybe) uses of the S-word,  the most these guys say is "daaamnnn" (not even God-damn).
As far as the father-son subplot, this is the major reason I did this movie. Curtis is highly motivated, contrary to your review. So, motivated to provide for his family, he takes a job as a janitor to keep a roof over his family's head. He is aloof and insensitive to his son's feelings, but he is a man who doesn't know how to love his son. He knows how to raise him and teach him to be a man, but he's not a nurturer. That (for better or for worse) was his wife's role and now she's gone. How does the family cope with the loss of a mother? That was part of the exploration and I felt it was important to examine, the dynamic of a father who was just emotionally absent (not altogether).

As for the skating, to me it was just a backdrop. That being said, we worked very hard to make the skating as authentic as possible. I'm sorry you didn't like what you saw, but I thought we handled it well. We did have doubles but all of our actors learned to skate and did all the routines. The editing was used to enhance the routines and emphasize the difficulty of the skating not hide the actors lack of skills. Would I have loved to keep the routines in masters? Absolutely, but today's audience fed a steady diet of MTV and BET music videos don't currently possess the attention span of such coverage. This is not to say that the routines nor the film as a whole is perfect, but I am proud of it and it is the film I wanted to make.

I'm also sorry your expectations were not met. However, I am not in this business to please critics. I am in it, partly, to attempt to empower Black people. I think that in Roll Bounce I have put a human face on another slice of Black American life that is rarely seen by the masses. Again, this is not original. The coming of age film has been done from Cooley High to Boyz N the Hood, but at least no one comes of age in Roll Bounce because one of their friends gets shot.

These are kids who go through what all American kids go through: conflicts with parents, awkwardness around the opposite sex, lazy summer days, striving for greatness, dealing with loss, making mistakes and learning from them, and falling in love. They just happen to be Black.

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