Queens of Pain @ Oxford Film Festival

It’s a funny thing that watching a film in which the subjects are passionate about something becomes something of interest to you even if you had never given it a previous thought. Think of how many people became interested in chess (Queen’s Gambit), big cat rescue (Tiger King) and even the British royal family (The Crown). Documentaries are especially good for that. Part of the learning experience, I guess. Here we are (for many of us) introduced to the sport of roller derby.

New York is, amongst other things, a serious sports city. With the Yankees, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Knicks, Red Bulls, Mets, and Nets all boasting rabid fans, it is a city which athletes love to play in. One of the most successful New York sports teams in the city is not on that list. The Queens of Pain are an all women team who are part of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league. Typical of women’s sport in general, these successful athletes toil in obscurity and a lack of funds. This documentary by directors Cassie Hay and Amy Winston tries to open the eyes of people who don’t know anything about women’s roller derby.

Roller derby is a great sport in that it demands passion. More so than other sports like soccer, basketball, football, hockey, tennis, and golf in that there is little to no chance of making money participating in it. No matter how good you are. The best players in this sport don’t earn a salary and even have to buy the beer for the concession stand, clean the bathrooms and take care of the skating surface. Many even work their jobs around practice and game schedules. You have to love your sport to go through all that.

Here we follow three women who are part of this roller derby league, but in very different situations. Suzy Hotrod is one of the best players in the league and the entire United States, Evilicious is a player whose situation has changed once she has a baby and Captain Smack Sparrow, a newcomer to the sport. No matter their situation the odds are stacked against them. All have made roller derby a priority in their lives so do what it takes to participate in it. All are fierce but also love their teammates and all those who engage in any way in roller derby.

The women here not only fight to take part in roller derby, they fight against all the restraints put up against women. Even in today’s society. Even in a country like the United States. We learn this because we dive deep into the world of these three women and their sport. Hay and Winston have constructed an engaging and fast paced documentary which not only allows us to understand these three female athletes, but also get a taste of the competition within the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League.

Roller derby is a sport which is open to everyone. Those who don’t think of themselves as athletic are drawn to it. It is a sport and community which attracts elite athletes as well as people thought of as misfits and renegades. Outsiders unite here. What it takes to play this sport is a single minded commitment.

Films like this are important for women. Especially today where they are faced with partner violence, rape, sexual harassment, unequal pay, and little access to the upper echelons of society or government. Women need good stories. They need to see that there are parts of the world in which they are in control. Roller derby is that world. Here they negotiate family life and jobs in order to play a sport they are passionate about. A community which provides them support and sisterhood at a time they need it most.