Monday, November 26, 2018


Audience Award Winner-Documentary Competition-World Premiere  Tribeca Film Festival
Audience Award Winner-Best Documentary-Chicago International Film Festival

 United Skates from HBO Documentary Films
Dwight Casimere with D Breeze (l), inventor of the One Stop skate dancing move and founder of Independence Roll national skating extravaganza

by Dwight Casimere

Glorious is both the theme song and the word which best describes the HBO Documentary Film United Skates by filmmakers Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown which debuts in theaters Friday Nov. 30. Check local listings for theatre locations and showtimes.

Executive produced by John Legend, among others, the film is an entertaining look at a very serious subject, the pervasive influence of the national black skating diaspora on black culture over the past fifty years or more. United Skates is a look at the black community and its struggles through the microcosm of its skating sub-culture. Turning a mere recreational activity into an art form, which spawned the early days of Rap and Hip Hop, black skating is also a window into the struggle for Civil Rights, the battle against urban gentrification and the influence of gangs and crime in the black community. Queen Latifah, Dr. Dre, Salt-N-Pepa and Ice Cube, pre NWA, all did their first performances at black skating nights because they were shunned by the community at large and barred from other more suitable venues.

In the dawning days of the Civil Rights Movement, blacks had to picket white-owned local skating rinks just to get one night of open skating. Dubbed with such code words as "Soul Night" or "R and B Night," the progenitors ultimately stuck with the term "Adult Night" as the designation for  black skating. In retaliation, rink owners attempted to restrict access by denying entrants the right to bring in skates modified with cut down or small wheels or other configurations that would allow for the elaborate dance steps invented for the roller rink. "It's impossible to do the moves that we do on a traditional skate," one devotee opined in the film.

Civil Rights and skating are intertwined in the narrative of the film. Rev. Charles Koen tells how the Klan brutally beat he and a group of protestors when they tried to integrate the sole roller rink in Cairo, Illinois. "They smashed my skull right here in the center," he says, pointing to a huge, cleaving scar on top of his head. "But that didn't stop us. Forward forever, never backward," he says defiantly.

Skating is a way of life for  many of the film's subjects, and an escape from the bigotry and grinding oppression of everyday life. "Skating is my life," says London, the teenaged daughter of one of the film's subjects, Phelicia, a single mother , trying mightily to raise her four children in the midst of the gaping abyss of crime and poverty that surrounds her. "It's like what Patrick Swayze says to Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing  that dancing is like the "Boom, Boom-Boom,Boom" of your heartbeat. That's what I feel when I'm on the floor. Everything that's troubling me just melts away."

The footage of actual skating is mesmerizing. Some of the dance moves undertaken by the skaters defy the laws of gravity. Take the One Stop, invented by Chicago skater D-Breeze, which requires the skater to move backwards balancing on one toe, while catilevering his or her body in the completely opposite direction. Or the JB moves of Chicago skaters that involve moving one leg in apposition to the other in rhythm with the call and response of James Brown's voice and the blasts from  his echoing horn section. Then there's the 'Nutcracker," so named because it involves the skater, usually male,  doing a head over heels somersault and then landing  spread eagle in the splits on the hardwood floor. Ouch!

When the local skating rink in South Central LA shuts down, Phelicia's son Shannon, with idle time on his hands after over a year without a local skating rink, starts to hang out with the wrong crowd and succumbs to the criminal elements that surround him. "A young boy just got shot down at the car wash in front of his mother just because he was wearing red shoes," Phelicia tells the unflinching camera. When she discovers that Shannon was involved in the breaking and entering of a private home, it is she that  turns him.  "I'd rather have him in jail than dead....In chains than in a coffin," she says as she marches into the LA Criminal Courts building.

Sadly, the majority of black skating rinks have closed around the country as greedy landowners and real estate agents seek to turn the valuable land they occupy into shopping malls and big box stores. In Los Angeles, the sole surviving rink became the only place where rival gang members forged a truce to declare the rink neutral territory. They would put their weapons down and set their differences behind then as they locked arms for a night of skating. The community begged city fathers to keep the rink open. Their pleadings fell on deaf ears and the rink was closed. Sadly, it remains vacant to this day.

Reggie, the proprietor of a family-owned rink in Chicago that goes back to his grandfather's time, sought to resurrect the black skating scene with an Independent Roll that attracted a national roster of skater from cities where rinks had been closed. When economic realities forced him to close his own doors, the skating community once again rallied to rise from the ashes.

United Skates is an inspiring film that demonstrates the power of art and the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Just the simple act of skating to a bumpin' rhythm is both a sign of protest and progress in a daunting world. United Skates in theaters Friday, Nov. 30.

Monday, November 12, 2018



Mounting protests in Todos Santos and (Below) the confrontation between John Moreno and the SWAT team that landed him in jail

by Dwight Casimere

"We are taking on the giants!" was both the rallying cry of the subjects in PATRIMONO, the superb documentary by  Emmy Award-winning(HBO, PBS, BBC, A and E) filmmakers Lisa F. Jackson and Sarah Teale and the plot summary of  the film which has its New York Premiere at the 2018 DOC NYC Film Festival Tues. and Weds., Nov. 13 and 14.  The film will also be available on all digital platforms and on DVD March 2019. When the filmmakers  set out to film the documentary PATRIMONIO, it started out as a project that got very personal from the beginning.

According to filmmaker Sarah Teale, some Colorado developers and their Mexican partners set out to create a luxury community in the tiny beachside community of Todos Santas, Baja Sur, California. Teale's husband's family had owned a house in the community for decades. When she noticed a huge retaining wall going up around the Punta Lobos beach where fishermen launched their boats to make a living, it set off alarms in her head. When she got in touch with her fellow filmmaker friend Lisa F. Jackson, the wheels started turning on a documentary project.  The proposed Tres Santos project was described to the locals and the project's investors as an idyllic community that would be an ecologically conscious haven for its primarily American upper class resident. On the surface, what seemed like a local problem had much larger implications. Its indicative of a much larger global problem; big developers are coming into communities like this sleepy beachside community, disrupting the local economy and destroying the ecology. 

The project in question was Tres Santos, an idyllic beachside resort that developers were selling to naive American investors as an ecological utopia on the Baja beach. What the developers failed to mention was that the development would completely destroy the beach that the fishermen used to launch their boats, which is vital to their livelihood. The fisherman had used this beach for more than 100 years. Generations of families based their livelihood on their ability to launch their ships on the narrow strip of beach which the development would effectively destroy, not to mention the surrounding hillsides, water supply and desert and marine ecology, by tripling the population.

The film unfolds  through the eyes of Rosario "El Chayo"  Salvatierra, whose family has fished these waters for four generations, and John Moreno, a surfer, attorney,  environmental activist and descendant of local pearl divers,  who takes on their cause. Local town officials apparently drank the Kool-Aid proferred by the developers, that building 5,000 homes in their tiny, sleepy community would somehow bring economic gain, when in reality it would bring an end to their way of life and destroy the delicate balance of nature. 

It is the fishermen, spearheaded by Moreno and Salvatierra's family, who finally bring things to a head. There's a dramatic standoff with the police SWAT team that threatens to end a nearly three-month blockade against the development, culminating in the arrest and incarceration of Moreno. Things climax right before our eyes as the will of the people and their resolve to win at all costs is tested to the max. Filmmakers Teale and Jackson are to be credited with their ability to train the objective eye of the camera unflinchingly on the events as they unfold, allowing the visuals to ascertain the truth without commentary. It is a riveting film that reveals in microcosm a growing global phenomenon that many will ultimately face in similar situations, greater or smaller, within their own communities. In that regard, PATRIMONIO, is a cautionary tale that foretells the road ahead for us all.  In addition to the DOC NYC screenings, the film will be released digitally and on DVD by First Run Features in March, 2019.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


by Dwight Casimere

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa-Photo courtesy Disney

Black Panther's hero costume is in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum acquired the costumed along with several objects from Disney's record-breaking film Black Panther. The costume, worn by Chadwick Boseman, went on display for the first time during the inaugural Smithsonian African American Film Festival. The costume is a gift of Marvel Studios and the Walt Disney Company. 

Ruth Carter accepts the Black Achievement Tribute Award from Chicago Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauche'

Black Perspectives Tribute honoree Ruth Carter on the Red Carpet

Concurrently, the Black Panther hero costume's Oscar nominated designer, Ruth Carter, was awarded for her body of work at the Black Perspectives Tribute of the Chicago International Film Festival. In addition to creating over a thousand costumes for the Disney blockbuster film adaptation of Marvel's latest super-hero epic, Carter has created some of cinema's most memorable material  images for films, including Spielberg's Amsted (1998) and Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1993). 

Ruth Carter signs autographs at the Hollywood opening of Black Panther

Carter has designed costumes for just about every important Black film you've ever seen. She has some 40 to her credit, including Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues and Jungle Fever, among many others. Her credits also include The Five Heartbeats, What's Love Got To Do With It and The Butler. "There aren't a lot of people who look like me out there. So I'd be in New York working with Spike on Jungle Fever and then fly to Hollywood to work on The Five Heartbeats."

Ruth Carter's recent work includes costumes for the Oscar-winning film Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay in 2014.

Her work on each of her films involves months of extensive research. "When I worked on Amsted, there was no Google then, I spent months researching in libraries and working with costuming experts all over Europe.  The challenges in creating costumes for the Black Panther were many. I didn't want them to be some kind of phony mock-up of some stereotypical African images, but something that could be identified as authentic.

Ruth Carter's Acceptance Speech at the Black Perspectives Tribute
Award winning actress and playwright Regina Taylor in conversation with Ruth Carter

Award winning actress and playwright Regina Taylor led a wide-ranging conversation with Carter at the Chicago Film Festival  Black Perspectives Tribute in which Carter reflected on her body of work and opened up about the creative process for Black Panther and her other films.

"When Disney came to me with Black Panther, they already presented the basic costume from Marvel. My challenge was to make it both authentic as far as African culture and futuristic at the same time."

Black Panther photos courtesy Disney

Multiple influences were used in creating costumes for Black Panther

Courtesy Disney

Over 1,000 costumes were created for Black Panther.  Carter brought a number of influences into the pieces, drawing on the comic book source material as well as African tribal garments and futuristic fashion.
"I studied the various  countries and the tribal influences around the countries. Not only of the indigenous African tribes, but also modern fashion and African-based designers. I really wanted to understand where they were in contemporary times. I wanted to understand how Africa has modernized and through that lens give Wakanda an even more forward feeling and look.
"I also needed to understand colonization. Surprisingly, I found that a lot of the African fabrics that you see are from Holland and were brought to Africa and embraced by the African cultures long ago. The wax cloth, for example, is a Dutch creation. I also wanted to incorporate elements that would let the audience know that each of the costumes also has something distinct to an African tribe. They can look at each character's costume and see  'that one's Maasai, that one's  Igbo, that one is Zulu or Yoruba, and so on."
Even though  the basic concept of the Black Panther hero costume came directly from Marvel, Carter was able to incorporate some distinctively African elements. "If you look at the fabric, you see a series of triangles. The triangle is something you see in African art throughout the continent.  You see it everywhere, in their culture, in their art, in their ceremonies. The triangle is there from birth. It’s a mystery as to what it actually means. There’s many theories about the sacred geometry of the triangle—but it was something I felt I could use."

Regina Taylor in conversation with Ruth Carter at the Black
Perspectives Tribute
In addition to her work on Black Panther, Carter recalled her work with actress Angela Basset in the 1993 biographical film What's Love Got To Do With It?" directed by Brian Gibson which starred Basset as the Rock and Soul legend and Laurence Fishbone as her abusive, manipulative husband Ike Turner. Responding to interviewer Regina Taylor, Carter recalled that "one of the most touching moments I experienced on the set (of What's Love Got To Do With It?) was when I went to the trailer to see how Angela (Bassett, who played Tina Turner) was doing with her hair. The hair always seemed to be a problem throughout the shooting of the film. But when I went to her trailer, there was Tina Turner, who was visiting  the set, braiding Angela's hair. "You've got to get my hair right!" She kept saying.  That was one of the most touching things that I've ever seen on a movie set."
Courtesy Disney

In addition  to the Black Panther Hero costume, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture acquired several objects from Disney’s record-breaking film;  a partial shooting script signed by Ryan Coogler (co-writer; director), Kevin Feige (producer, president of Marvel Studios), Nate Moore (executive producer) and Joe Robert Cole (co-writer; producer); and 24 high-resolution production photographs.  For more information about the museum, visit