I like to watch videos. Primarily because if I go to the show to watch a movie, I will fall asleep. If I watch television, I also fall asleep, but with a video, when I fall asleep watching it, I can always go back to the last part I remember seeing and go on from there. Watching a video can sometimes take me up to a week to finish. So I prefer to buy my videos over renting them – especially when I can find decent movies for $3.00 or less.
I was recently in my favorite discount bargain store and saw a movie I’ve always wanted to see. That movie, Roll Bounce, should have done for roller skating what Saturday Night Fever did for disco dancing. Sadly, it didn’t and I wondered why. The movie had all the prerequisites that should have made it a hit. It had one of the hottest young rappers (Bow Wow) as the star, it had classic old-school music, and it was based on a sport that, if ever allowed in the Olympics, black people would surely dominate.
Why does one movie cause a sensation and another doesn’t? It has to do with the way the movie “gets” its subject – especially when it comes to portraying black culture. Everyone who makes a movie with an all-black cast doesn’t always do it well. That’s the reason Tyler Perry’s Madea is so beloved while Martin Lawrence’s Big Mama is just pure ignorance. One movie manages to capture the essence of an older black woman who reminds us of people we know while the other paints a negative stereotype and has us hoping that person doesn’t ever exist. It’s a fine line and those who can walk that line well are rare.
The movie Roll Bounce is set in the 1970s and starts off with people skating while a deejay speaks into the mic. That time in my life was an era of innocence and when we as black people had a firm moral compass. As the deejay in the movie began to spew profanity above the sound of the music, there was a shot of a woman and her two kids skating at the rink. As I watched the juxtaposition of profanity and family, I shuddered. It was such a small scene, and yet the message it sent was powerful – that even in the 1970s, black people accepted any kind of language around kids. And that is far from the truth.
What caught my attention next was the almost obligatory “slave ancestor” joke. Why do black moviemakers find a need to denigrate our history as par for the course? Who doesn’t recall the movie Barbershop and the controversy over the Rosa Parks remark? How often in everyday life do our young people even refer to the past beyond “yesterday?”
Now the movie wasn’t all negative. There’s a scene where the father and son have a major disagreement and the father keeps his cool. The father is a wise man who never curses at his son, and in the midst of their major conflict, he calls him “Son” at every opportunity. Those scenes were the perfect teaching tool for parents to learn how to handle conflict with a firm, yet loving hand.
By the time I finished, I understood why the movie didn’t accomplish what it could have. The filmmaker showed black culture but never captured the subtle essence of it. The filmmaker failed to create an entire movie filled with scenes that black people could identify with. The subject of roller skating is one that could benefit from a second attempt by a moviemaker who can do a better job than did the one who made Roll Bounce.