I am woman… hear me roll? CAWLM takes pride and pleasure in showcasing remarkable women who follow their passions to find success in all aspects of their lives. Who knew a film about roller derby could be a celebration of the same? Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, filmed in Michigan and featuring Detroit locals, proved to be just that.
Whip It stars Ellen Page as Bliss. She is a small town girl trying to navigate pleasing her parents and finding herself. Her mom wants her to be a beauty pageant queen, and she has just discovered the wild world of roller derby.
Do “beauty pageant” and “roller derby” conjure up preconceived notions in your head? Let me tell you, I went into Whip It thinking it was going to be a “rock-um-sock-um, laughs here and there” fun movie.
It was — but I cried. Hello! Who knew I would be clamoring for my butter-soaked napkins to blow my nose while weeping bittersweet tears at a roller derby movie? As it turns out, my preconceived notion of roller derby in itself really steered me wrong.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with the women who made this movie. By this I mean I stood on the red carpet of a PR event for the release of Whip It with a bunch of media people waiting for Barrymore to show up.
As we waited, these fascinating-looking women were tearing around in front of us on roller skates. They were the Detroit Derby Girls. They had purple and red hair, tattoos and crazy outfits. On the back of each outfit was their derby name. Black Eyed SKeEz. Honey Suck-It. Muffy Mafioso. You get the picture.
As I was passing time, I looked at the bio sheet we were given about these women, since they appeared in the film. Wait a second … Black Eyed SkeEz graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in naval architecture and marine engineering? Muffy Mafioso is a librarian in Detroit? Who are these ladies?
According to Black Eyed SKeEz, they are a diverse group of women who come from all walks of life to offer each other a true sense of community. They support each other and challenge each other. They run a business together. They pursue a common passion purely for the love of it and the sisterhood it offers. Women empowering women — on skates.
Let’s get to Barrymore. We all have seen how she has transformed herself from a wild child to a focused and accomplished (though still free spirited) actress, producer and now director. One thing Barrymore did really well in Whip It was showcase women’s power in both our physical bodies and in our hearts and souls. The ability to forgive, love unconditionally and be vulnerable to love.
“It was important to me to convey all the tones in life. That is what life is, a cohesive look at emotions,” Barrymore said. “As women, we can have moments of extreme emotion or vulnerability, but we also are funny and strong and can find a laugh when we need one.” She went on to say that she “loved seeing women portrayed as being capable, strong and inspirational.”
After Barrymore gushed about how cool and accomplished they all were, she went on to praise what an amazing community of women they formed.
“I love people who do not alienate others. I love welcoming environments,” she said.
She described coming into a world where these women lead incredible double lives. She talked of how, as an actress, she got to strap on her derby girl persona, just like the librarian and graphic artist. She talked about how empowering it all was.
Barrymore walked away from me and turned to who I assumed was her assistant. She took a sip of offered ice tea, drank it with her eyes closed, and handed it back with a “thank you.” She then went over to her derby friends. She hugged them, touched them and rubbed a pregnant teammate’s belly. Here she was, amid the chaos, being gracious and genuine. A big-time movie star, producer and director showing her true strength as a woman. What a success.
Anyone up for a road trip to the Masonic Temple? We can buy some skates on the way. I feel the need to release my inner derby girl. Her name is Bite Me McQueen. What’s yours?