can drew barrymore stop feminist punk rock on wheels?

As some of you know, one of the new things that Linette and I had at the Shadow Art Fair was a hand-painted limited edition poster that I made on the subject of Drew Barrymore and the film she’s making here in Ypsi. I sold quite a few of them, which was cool, but, more importantly — and I hadn’t considered this when I thought the idea up – it made a lot of people stop and talk with me about Barrymore and her film who probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Among those who stopped were a few members of the Detroit Derby Girls.

It seems as thought “Whip It!”, the derby-themed movie that Barrymore is shooting here, isn’t so popular with everyone on the roller derby circuit. I suppose some of that could be expected, as producers have selected some Detroit Derby Girls to be a part of the production, and not others, but my sense is that it goes a bit deeper than that. The women I talked with seemed sincere when they said that they felt as though the movie could be “bad” for their sport.

Having read the script, two of these women felt as though the film “could” do contemporary roller derby a disservice. I didn’t press either of them for a lot of detail, but the sense that I got was that roller derby was portrayed in the film as something along the lines of professional wrestling, which, if you’ve gone to see a game recently, couldn’t be further from the truth. I went and saw the Detroit Derby Girls last year, and I was impressed by their athleticism and the seriousness with which they competed. I don’t know what I was expecting going in, but I didn’t think that it would be as — well — legitimate. Sure, the girls had funny names — like Black Eyed Skeez and Honey Suckit – and the refs wore outrageous costumes, but it was, when you stripped everything else away, real. The women were really competing. And, from what I hear, that’s not so much the case in “Whip It,” which presents modern roller derby as more campy. This isn’t an exact quote, but one of the women told me that they were afraid that the movie might set the roller derby movement, which in its current form is all about DIY female empowerment, back 30 years.

And, apparently, the casting choices made by the producers didn’t help erase any fears the derby girls might have had after reading the script. It sounds like the producers didn’t always take the best competitors we had here in Detroit to be a part of the project. They didn’t take, for instance, the athletic, full-figured women who excel at the sport. Instead, they took the smaller, more “attractive” Derby Girls to be on screen.

I think the moral of the story, if there is one, is that it sucks when Hollywood tries to make your sub-culture mass market-friendly. (I’m sure that, one day, there will be a movie about small-town bloggers, and we’ll all be portrayed as attractive, outgoing and whippet-thin.)

I should also mention that, across the board, I’ve only heard wonderful things about Ms. Barrymore. I talked with over half a dozen people on Saturday who had been in contact with her, and they all said that she was “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being” they’d ever known in their lives… And, I should add, it wasn’t as though the derby girls I spoke with were completely against the project. They acknowledged that it was cool that the project landed here instead of in Austin. They just felt as though it was kind of a mixed blessing in that it had created rifts within their organization, and because it might hurt the public perception of their sport.

Oh, and I also sold one of my mock-hysterical “Keep Drew Barrymore Out of Ypsilanti… Our Salvation Will Not Be Found in Roller Derby” posters to a woman from LA who was in the area, shooting another film. I can’t remember the name of her project, but apparently it’s an indie with a hot up-and-coming female lead, playing an art student at UM. So, keep your eyes peeled — my poster may show up on a dorm room wall.

And, if you haven’t been to see the Detroit Derby Girls in action, I’d suggest taking in a match. (Do they call them matches?) It’s good fun for the whole family… Or, at least Clementine loved it.

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30 Comments

  1. Andy C
    Posted July 21, 2008 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    This is typical of Hollywood. Everything is done as over the top and cartoonish. Have you ever seen a movie about punk rock where the people looked like the people actually in the music scene? No, it’s always bad British fashion punks. Once Hollywood tries to make something mainstream it usually dies. I hope Roller Derby survives this.

    Meanwhile, woo hoo! jobs in Ypsilanti!

  2. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    I read this blog to my daughter every night. She takes great exception to your portrayal of “smaller … more attractive” girls as less athletic.

    She was especially indignant as it ran so counter to what you wrote just a few months ago.

  3. Black Jake
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Why didn’t we send them tiny Black Jake and the Carnies tank tops?!? Damn it!

  4. Posted July 22, 2008 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Mark — here in New York we tend to call them bouts. We’ve been helping out the Gotham Girls stats team this year. Anyone who hasn’t taken in a derby bout, I highly recommend it!

  5. Christina
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Mark – I’m a derby girl just starting to play this year. Still new to the sport, but I can say that as you mentioned, I can certainly attest to the sport being very real, as evidenced by the many bruises I get each practice. I think it’s great that they’re making a movie about the sport though. No matter what, it will bring attention to the sport and that’s a good thing. Where I’m from the league is still growing and the more mainstream it gets, the easier it will be to get good practice spaces, more recruits etc. I guess in Detroit, they don’t have problems like that, it’s not an issue for them. Our team captain always has to fight for these things (being that we’re in a pretty small town), so I think the film is awesome for that reason alone if for nothing else. Plus, I’d like to wait to see it before I pass judgement on it. Juliette Lewis is awesome, so the movie might be as well. I say give it a chance.

  6. Paw
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I hear that, in the new Hannah Montana movie, she portrays an amateur taxidermist and it’s really got me pissed off. Not only does it suck to have people think that I wear lip gloss and sing while stuffing squirrels, but I know that the price of sawdust is going to skyrocket.

  7. Paw
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Andy C, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I think that CHIPS, for instance, did a wonderful job portraying punk culture. They even incorporated this rare documentary footage.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3y4PFCpoOw

  8. Posted July 22, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I suspect there were some that worried that Rocky would be bad for boxing and Snow White would ruin the apple industry.

    It’s a movie, not real life, get over it.

    – Steve

  9. Casper
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I find it highly amusing that you, Steve, have the balls to tell anyone to “get over it” given how often you fly off the handle on this site over seemingly inconsequential sh-t.

    It may not mean anything to you, but derby means a lot to these women and they care about how it’s portrayed.

  10. Kevin
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Whatever you do, don’t say “Ypsiderby” or “Rollertucky”!

  11. Posted July 22, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Paw,

    That episode was great! William Forsythe, most know as John Goodman’s sidekick in Raising Arizona, played the main bad punk. It’s said that Black Flag’s roadies advised on the whole thing. My parents did watch me more closely after that episode aired. It’s also onyoutube if you have the time.
    “Son of Sam” by Spike Lee is a good example of badly done punk. Quincy too!

  12. Brackache
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Whatever you do, don’t say “Ypsiderby” or “Rollertucky”!

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  13. UBU
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I love the “Quincy” episode where he says “Cause of Death? Punk Rock.”

  14. Posted July 22, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    You mean this one:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjHV9wQv6u8&NR=1

  15. Posted July 22, 2008 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Now go wash your brain with this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSRjYYUE-_c&feature=related

  16. Posted July 23, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I do know Johnny Rotten was VERY offended at the portrayal of punk rock on the show and vowed never to watch “The Odd Couple” again, despite his affection for Tony Randall…

  17. Robert
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh, are the roller derby girls packing the foreign film and art theaters? Is someone stopping them from making their own true to life movies? I have to say, I was pretty shocked when I found out they might be favoring more attractive people for parts in Hollywood movies. This is an outrage! I hope this hasn’t been happening in any other productions.

  18. Brackache
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Hey Robert, a lot of these girls were kidnapped and dragged to fight in the rollarena against their will during the war of 1812. While everyone else was blinded by tears singing the Star Spangled Banner (and staring too long at the rockets’ red glare), old Mr. Monopoly guy was sipping cognac and putting his big cigars out on fat, unattractive roller derby chicks’ broken ribs.

    So don’t eat at Zingermans, racist jerks.

  19. Posted July 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I think this movie is going to be great for all derby leagues. Whether your brand new- or going into your fourth season, like us- the Detroit Derby Girls. It’s going to give us a lot of attention that will assist us in our recruitment, sponsorship, pr, fund raising, and other efforts. Which- as in the majority of leagues- is all done internally.

    I also think that is what will keep us real- we take the motto of ‘by the skater, for the skater’ seriously- which means the skaters are the owners, managers, and decision makers for themselves. No movie will change that.

    I, personally, think it’s awesome that the movie is using real derby girls to be the derby girls in the movie. About 60 skaters from Detroit and Grand Rapids tried out for about 25 roles and I’m very excited for the excellent skaters that were chosen for the derby parts. (Like Black Eyed Skeez and Honey Suckit).

    You should all definitely come and see for your self- The Detroit travel team will take on Cincinnati on Sept 13 at the Masonic Temple and our home team season will start in November. Tickets on sale soon- keep checking http://www.detroitderbygirls.com for more info

  20. mark
    Posted July 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Crash Baby. I think you’re right that, on the whole, it will probably be a positive. And, for what it’s worth, I think the Derby Girls that I spoke with would agree. They just recognized that it was complicated, and that there were tradeoffs.

    Best of luck against Cinci.

  21. Tracy
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    “They didn’t take, for instance, the athletic, full-figured women who excel at the sport. Instead, they took the smaller, more “attractive”

  22. Posted July 25, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Juliette Lewis, Ellen Page and a bunch of SNL alumni have been partying in downtown Ypsi the last couple nights, seriously. So we’ll all get our shot at catching chlamydia, you just have to get in line that forms in front of TC’s.

  23. Paw
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I got chlamydia from Joe Piscapo!

  24. Fletcher
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    That’s nothing, I got gonorrhea from Tim Kazurinsky!!! It was third-hand, by way of a TC’s regular, but still.

  25. Meta
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    One celebrity we’re not likely to see in Ypsi this weekend:

    http://www.nj.com/entertainment/celebrities/index.ssf/2008/07/justin_long_drops_out_of_drew.html

  26. Jimmy B
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Hello, i havent ever blogged on here before, i have actually seen Ms. Barrymore, i did not do the running up too her and begging her franticly for an autograph, although would have liked to say hello and just tell her that she is amazing and i am a huge fan, and so is my son, that would be it, shes a real person that deserves some privacy, i think we will see alot more stars here if they feel they will not be mobbed to death. as i said i seen her on friday the 18th of July at a club in ann arbor, it was nice to see her there but i did not approach her, my son told me to he wanted to eat lunch with her. lol
    and again seen her at a restaurant in ann arbor on sunday the 21st and she was just her, she looked very fun and relaxed. i think its awesome that they are even here let alone shooting a movie. Now as for the Derby Girls, get over it, at least someone is bringing to our attention that the sport is still alive and being played today, would love to see a Roller Derby and now i just may look it up and go, i think it would be fun… as for shooting a movie in general, all movies are suppose to be an event, that takes you away from your life for that 1hr and 10 minutes or so. I know that i wouldnt goto the movies to see a Middle class small town guy, thats in debt up too his a–, just lost his house to foreclosure, had his phone turned off, lost his job, has no medical insurance, and is barely getting unemployment, and has a 12 year old son, is a single parent that just happens to be gay, oh wait thats me…. See would you pay to see that, i wouldnt, id rather live as that roller derby feel good, cause she beat the odds type of movie, or that little alien came to visit me, and my single mom trying to make it, he brought us closer together, died and then came back all to make you cry, laugh and feel great. next time you goto the movies think about what you really wana see and make fun of hollywood again. also if we didnt want it as a consumer, they wouldnt produce it and make money from it.

    But that is just My Opinion….
    Thanks and Drew if you happen to be reading this, keep up the great work, you ROCK…. and My Son has a Huge Crush on you….

  27. Posted July 28, 2008 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    First of all, this is all blown out of propartion. I work with the DDG first hand and have since forever. Let me tell you that this article is full of holes and untruths right down to where thier filming. Number one, all shapes and sizes were chosen to film the movie, it was strictly based on acting ability and skating skill. How do I know this? Because I could have picked out the exact girls they chose before they chose them. In my line of work it helps to know what girls will be good in the spotlight. 2, it’s great for the sport, I wonder how many of you willing to knock it have ever attened a bout downtown. Let me tell you it is and awesome night of full contact fun and there’s even an after party where you can hang with the atheletes. No sports dares show that much love. I interviewed a 13 year old boy at a game yesterday who said “This is great, there’s so much more contact than football”. It is the heaviest hitting, fastest moving, heart and skilled driven, adrenaline pumping, highest scoriing, defensive and offensive at the same time, egde of your seat get on your feet sport on the planet. If you really want to check it out do come down September 13th, where your Detroit All-Star Team takes on Cincinnati’s all star team. This is the game to see this year in Detroit. Seriously, I talk to every girl on this league and to think any of them actually said this to this guy instead of making him buy a ticket is a load of hot air. I do assume someone with such an opinion on the subject already bought his ticket. With that I’ll also say that as a member of the media myself I have one piece of advice, check out sources from all sides of your story. Because I’m sure Whip-It will be a joy-ride collision of a good time, especially if it feature any of our D-Town Derby Girls. Kick some ass in Austin ladies and keep doing the fine job you always do. Here’s the schedule for the rest of the season….

    DDG vs. Tampa – at Tampa – Aug 9, 2008

    DDG vs. Austin – at Austin – Sep 7, 2008

    DDG vs. Cincinnati – at Home – Sep 13, 2008

    Eastern Regionals – at Madison Wisconsin -Oct 10th – 12th

    WFTDA Nationals – Portland Oregon – Nov 14th – 16th

  28. mark
    Posted July 28, 2008 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I’d encourage you to read the post again. The women that I spoke with did not say that the film was “bad for Roller Derby.” They just expressed concern over how the film “might” portray the sport. At the same time, however, they acknowledged that the project was cool, and that they were happy that it was happening here rather than in Austin. As I’ve said above, it’s a complicated matter. A lot of things in life aren’t black and white.

  29. sarah
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Just thought I would update that Detroit spanked Cinci by 100+, the 86% of the ladies that skated in the movie (who are on the travel team) trained between 5-6 days a week and laid the hurt down on a very good Cinci team.

    Wait… they always train 5-6 days a week, are not thin or frail, rather they skate their hearts out almost everyday of their lives… and would probably be able to lay the hurt down in just about any athletic avenue.

    I hope you caught the game, since you wrote this blog…

  30. Genevieve
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m a little late here considering the post has been up for quite some time, but I just wanted to say that I was one of the girls chosen to be in this film…and I’m not small. Not at all. I wear a size 12 dress and have a BIG ass (all the better to block with!). I think when you see the movie you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the size diversity of the Detroit cast.

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