Whip It vs. Reality
Q: How well did the movie Whip It capture the sport of modern roller derby?
Pretty well! While there are a handful of Hollywoodisms -- for example, a coordinated everyone-stop-dead-and-throw-an-elbow is not a viable tactic in today's derby -- on the whole, the action is represented fairly accurately.
Perhaps more importantly, the film does a pretty good job of demonstrating how meaningful the derby community can be for its members. Modern roller derby provides a unique opportunity for the thousands of people who've become involved as skaters, referees, stats, and support crew to live without labels and do something bold.
So many little details ring true: derby names, comparing giant bruises, the terror/excitement of tryouts, the newfound family of the derby team, the mild lunacy of the after party, the not-about-winning/actually-no-it's-about-winning progression, the toll derby can exact on existing friendships, the newfound confidence, Bliss's "I... am in LOVE with this" moment -- all are completely familiar to modern derby participants.
If there's anything not quite on the mark about the film, it's the age of the protagonist. While the camaraderie of the derby community often spurs its members along the journey of self-discovery experienced by 17-year-old Bliss in Whip It, the real-life protagonists are most often women in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s.
One other key difference: with a handful of local exceptions, physical fights are essentially extinct in modern roller derby. Today's audiences are just too savvy to be taken in by an old-school scuffle, wherein hits to delicate areas are carefully avoided. Fake fights are obvious, but real fights are dangerous -- and don't win bouts.