“Be your own hero,” read the tagline for 2009’s “Whip It,” the first Hollywood movie to feature the female-powered sport of modern roller derby. Directed by Drew Barrymore, the film featured Ellen Page as a small-town Texas teen who reinvents herself as a banked track speedster dubbed “Babe Ruthless.”
Women of diverse backgrounds, ages and sizes have adopted the film’s message with their involvement in the L.A. Derby Dolls, a popular banked track roller derby league that has become a vibrant hub for female empowerment.
But the financial future of the Derby Dolls, who play in a converted El Sereno warehouse known as the Dollosseum, is in doubt.
After a fire that killed 36 people at a party inside a nonpermitted Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, Los Angeles in December stopped issuing temporary special event permits to facilities such as the one that has housed the Dollosseum for two years.
The league is facing costly fees to file for a variance from city zoning laws that would allow them to reopen their doors following the cancellation of three scheduled events so far this year. A scheduled event later this month is in jeopardy.
And so the Derby Dolls are calling on roller derby and movie fans to join forces Sunday for a special screening of “Whip It,” with all proceeds going toward the permit, operations, and renovation costs that will otherwise force the volunteer-run, nonprofit Derby Dolls to cancel more of their 2017 schedule.
Downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater will host the fundraiser, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Scheduled to appear are several of the film’s stars, including Page, Alia Shawkat, and Landon Pigg, who will participate in a Q&A.
A GoFundMe campaign to raise $119,000 to cover a $27,300 City Filing & Design fee, $75,000 in expected renovation costs, as well as monthly operating costs, has met one-third of its goal.
Shawkat, who credits “Whip It” for reinvigorating her love for acting, was 19 when she joined the film’s cast and crew in Detroit. “It was such a strong group of women,” she said. “Drew wasn’t just at the head of it, she definitely set a tone: ‘We’re all in this together.’”
The “Arrested Development” alumna is now prepping for the second season of her TBS series “Search Party” and will appear on the upcoming season of Amazon’s “Transparent.”
“Because of ‘Whip It,’ still to this day people will come up to me and say, ‘That movie was so important to me,’” Shawkat said. “A woman came up to me once in Texas and said, ‘I was in an abusive relationship, and I started derbying and ended it — it changed my whole life. It gave me strength again.’”
She also praised the roller derby community: “It’s about their own sexuality, their own strength, their own sportsmanship, their own competitiveness. These women are so strong in many definitions of the word.”
KPCC radio host and Derby Dolls veteran Alex Cohen, known by her skate name Axles of Evil; “Whip It” screenwriter Shauna Cross a.k.a. Maggie Mayhem; and roller derby trainer Jennifer Barbee a.k.a. Kasey Bomber, co-author of the book “Down and Derby” with Cohen, are also scheduled to join the screening event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse and Spaceland Presents.
There’s more at stake for the L.A. Derby Dolls than their regularly scheduled season.
In addition to hosting an annual health fair, the Derby Dolls teach roller derby to youngsters in a program for girls ages 7 to 17.
The league, founded in 2003, has hosted Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. Domestic Violence Task Force at an LAPD appreciation luncheon, welcomed domestic violence survivors at a private training session, and last year participated in the Great L.A. River CleanUp, L.A. Pride Festival and Parade, Homeboy Industries 5k and Toys for Tacos.
“Our concern is the loss for the community while our events on hold,” said Edie Lundeen, an 11-year roller derby veteran who skates under the nom de roller derby Vodka Toxic. “The Derby Dolls is a home that nurtures female empowerment from both our Junior Derby Dolls to our adult league, at a time when a program like this is much needed.”