×

John Legend, Cheryl ‘Salt’ James, More Bring Black Roller Skating Culture to the Spotlight

Roller skating isn’t just a hobby. In black communities across the country, it’s a culture. It’s a way of life.

At the premiere of the documentary “United Skates” in Los Angeles at Avalon on Wednesday night, executive producer John Legend, Cheryl “Salt” James, and more talked about just that, dishing on how roller skating rinks in the United States brought black communities together, and why it’s sad they’re disappearing, a theme that echoed throughout the powerful film.

“Back in the day, skating was the shiznit,” the Salt-N-Pepa rapper told Variety. “It’s what we would do on the weekend. Me and Pep actually used to go to a skating rink on Long Island called Laces, and when I was little, I lived in Brooklyn and Empire was the skating rink.”

“Skating was a huge part of the hip-hop culture because when you first started performing, that was one of your gigs,” she continued. “Your gig would be a pub or a skating rink, so we went around all the skating rinks from Philly to Maryland to New York. So because it’s a dying culture, something that I grew up on that I’ve always loved, when I saw the documentary, I didn’t know how deep it was that it’s disappearing. It’s pretty sad. It’s a staple in our culture that I grew up on that I’m sorry that my daughter didn’t get a chance to see.”

Directors Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown echoed those sentiments. They spent five years putting the documentary together, with Legend joining the team near the end of the project. As they were filming “United Skates,” they not only immersed themselves in the culture of roller skating, but also noticed the segregation at skating rinks.

“When we were first introduced to this world and we saw how celebratory it was, we weren’t sure that it was going to have enough social or political impact,” Winkler told Variety. “It was only when we started to realize all the rinks in this country are segregated that these skaters were being treated differently on the nights that they go to the rink, that we came back and decided to bring it to the world.”

That segregation, Legend said, “wasn’t necessarily a bad thing” because of the way it brought communities together. “It has allowed a certain subculture to flourish to celebrate black culture and black skating culture,” he told reporters, adding, “Segregation is bad. Segregation has a terrible history in America, but sometimes the byproduct of segregation is that certain subcultures get to flourish, and I think one of the results of that is that there have been these cultural spaces where black people got together and enjoyed each other and enjoyed the music of their culture.”

Brown said she was touched by that sense of community at the rinks, telling Variety about a moment that struck her when she walked inside of one and saw that no one was locking up their personal belongings. “When we walked into the room, all of the lockers had no locks on them,” she said. “When they walk to the lockers, they just put their clothes, their skate bags, their wallets underneath benches. Everyone was family in there and there was a sense of why would you take anything because you’re family — even if you don’t know who they are.”

“So we really tried to make sure that you felt that sense of community and that sense of love in every inch of the making of the film so you understood that this space was an important space that grandparents go to that babies go to and everything in between, and they’re all under that one roof at one time,” she continued.

It was easy to feel that sense of community in the documentary, but also inside of the Avalon. Skaters who appeared in the film, like Batman, were there, watching the screening in plush booths alongside Legend, James, Raz-B, Jeannie Mai, and more. Once the credits rolled, a skate party of sorts ensued, with 30 invited skaters rolling their way down to skate on stage and show off their tricks for attendees.

“United Skates” premieres Feb. 18 on HBO on.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

  • Breaking Bad Movie

    'Breaking Bad' Movie: Watch the First Teaser for 'El Camino'

    In case you hadn’t heard, Emmy-winning drama “Breaking Bad” is cooking up a movie sequel. On Saturday, after details of Netflix’s project quietly leaked online, the streaming giant issued the first teaser for “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which will be released on October 11. Starring Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, the “Breaking Bad” [...]

  • Samara Weaving and Adam Brody Big

    'Ready or Not': That Time Samara Weaving Hit Andie MacDowell in the Face

    Samara Weaving didn’t mean to hurt Andie MacDowell, but she did just that while they were rehearsing for their new horror dark comedy “Ready or Not.” “I hit Andie MacDowell in the face by accident,” Weaving says on this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast. “It was horrible. It was [...]

  • Aracne

    Chile’s Sanfic, Mexico’s Morbido Fest Pact to Promote Latino Horror (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexican horror festival Morbido and Chile’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) have agreed on a long-term collaboration intended to strengthen the genre film industry in Chile and across Latin America. This partnership will see Morbido representatives attend the Sanfic industry section each year to aid in the promotion of horror projects and advise those projects [...]

  • Tom Holland'Spider-Man: Homecoming' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Tom Holland Addresses Spider-Man’s Studio Divorce at D23: ‘I Love You 3000’

    British actor Tom Holland showed face on the main stage at D23 on Saturday, in the thick of an ugly studio battle over the rights to his iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. Headlines have been rolling in for days about the contentious battle for the cinematic future of the hero, after Sony Pictures became unwilling to [...]

  • Soul Movie

    Pixar's 'Soul' Announces Voice Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey to Star

    Disney debuted a first look at upcoming Pixar film “Soul” at the D23 expo in Anaheim, Calif. and announced its star-studded voice cast. “Soul” imagines that every person on earth comes pre-installed with a soul formed and perfected in a cosmic realm. Jamie Foxx will play a middle-school music teacher on earth who dreams of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content