I will be honest with you, when I first heard about the documentary “MINDING THE GAP” I wasn’t sure what to expect considering I have never thought deeply about skateboarding, which is what the documentary revolves around. But as I watched the film I realized how deep the documentary goes in terms of highlighting many social issues impacting on the youth of America – particularly the lives of young men from the blue collar area of Rockford, Illinois where class, abuse, race, education etc all play a part in the lives of many who live there, particularly the 3 young men which the documentary revolves around. 3 friends who share friendship and a common thread of being thrown into a world, where they had to navigate through life’s hardships but also growing up and forming their identities together as young men. It was interesting to get the insight of what the “coming of age” and “masculinity” means to an Asian American man, an African American man, and a white American man and how this binds them together as friends and more so brothers. Skateboarding is their means of escaping life but it is also their way of navigating through life’s difficulties. I seriously enjoyed following the lives of Bing ( who is also the filmmaker for “Minding the Gap”), 23-year-old Zack, who struggles to raise a newborn with his girlfriend and 17-year-old Keire who is job hunting.
I do not want to go too much into the ins and out of what “Minding The Gap” is about because as usual, I would prefer all of you to go out and check out the documentary yourself. But as a synopsis this is the premise of the documentary:
Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.
My take? I enjoyed it and it really opened my eyes to blue collar America and a lot of the issues young men face regardless of race. Despite the friends being of different ages, they are very close and they share each other’s life’s problems. It is deep and is layered in terms of the issues it highlights. I had the opportunity to interview Bing Liu who is the director and the primary filmmaker for “Minding The Gap”, Keire who is one of the lives being followed in the documentary and the Producer for “Minding The Gap” Diane Quon. I focused on the ideas of social issues, the coming of age and forming masculinity as the main premise of the interview, so I hope you will enjoy it and go check out the documentary when you get the chance.
In a few sentences (without providing any spoilers) how would you explain the essence of “Minding The Gap”?
BING: At the core it is about the coming of age of 3 young men growing up in middle America, trying to come to terms with their pasts and the present.
DIANE: It is a coming of age story who find skateboarding has helped them get through family issues and how skateboarding becomes their new family.
How important has skateboarding played in your lives and your developments and growth as young American men, but for both Bing and Keire as men of color?
KEIRE: I will say that if I didn’t have skateboarding I would fall into the same trend of getting into trouble and being young and dumb. My older brothers were running the streets and without skateboarding I would most likely be doing the same thing as them. Skateboarding saved me and I never got arrested type trouble. The only trouble I got was questions as to why I was home late. I wouldn’t be here right now without skateboarding. It gave me an escape and the freedom to help me breakaway from negative habits.
BING: I grew up in a household where I didn’t have any control and growing up in the Mid West, there is an extremely low Asian American presence, so I wasn’t sure who I was growing up. Skateboarding gave me that control and allowed me to understand who I was. It also allowed me to see myself as a person and not just racially, and led me into film-making.
As a young Asian American man and as a young African American man living in white America, how did you perceive your own sense of masculinity growing up?
KEIRE: I would like to yes and no in terms of how much skateboarding has played in terms of developing my sense of masculinity because there is a part of skateboarding which is toxic in that if you do not push yourself you would be considered a “wimp”. As I got older I never walked that toxic path, if I pushed someone to do something it always came from the heart and from the positive light. There is still a toxic masculinity aspect to skateboarding but for most people who are into this sport its all about love and encouraging each other. Both of these worlds definitely helped me being comfortable to not be overly masculine.
BING: I grew up very scrawny and I grew up in an environment where I was restricted to traditional views of what is masculinity. Every male I knew in school was lifting weights and that somehow was expected of you if you were a guy. Skateboarding allowed me to escape all that. It is not a sport officially as there are no organizations regulating it bit it really feeds itself. I remember making my own skateboard videos when I was younger and using very sensitive music choices for the videos. I think I am more of a sensitive man rather than the stereotypical macho masculine man.
How do you feel about your lives and life’s problems being an open book for many people to see?
KEIRE: I always trusted Bing from the beginning and I knew he wouldn’t do anything which would make us feel bad. I was more shocked and concerned about whether people would care about my life and my problems, because abuse and stuff is normal to people when it shouldn’t be. And I thought I may get made fun of and being called over dramatic. My family members haven’t seen the documentary as yet and I am unsure on how they will see it. Most of my older siblings had already left home during the filming of the documentary and my parents had separated and my dad’s demeanor changed significantly. Some of my family have said that I am making up some of the problems I shared and experienced, but you know what? most of them were not around when these issues happened.
BING: I think it is more of an effect growing up and being abused. It is less about the physical but more about the emotional. Like the wimp thing which Keire stated earlier I was abused at home and would get beaten up more if I showed any emotions. I struggled to open myself up in the film from coming from a point of self defeatist. I was concerned that people may think I was a cry baby. But the positives of the reactions from the documentary is that I would get a Facebook message or an email from people who have seen the documentary saying that they resonate with some of the hard themes which were bought out.
Bing, how were you able to intertwine so many important themes such as race, class, education, family, relationships, violence etc without losing the plot of the documentary? Was this planned?
BING: I mean to answer your question, I will need to give you an overview of the process. For 6 years I went around the country with the original idea of following skateboarders and their relationship with their fathers. Some of the questions I would ask was about who they loved more – their mom or dad and who taught them to skateboard. I was lucky to be accepted into a fellowship in film making and that was the moment I realized that you can actually follow the lives people and tell their stories. Through that, I kept my production pretty wide in terms of the issues I would cover. I focused on Keire because he was the only African American skater among white skaters. It was literally a snowball effect. People after seeing the initial rough cuts told me to take out race as they felt it was so unresolved, but after they saw more rough cuts where I covered Keire’s relationship with his dad and asked about what his dad taught him about race I was told it was a good thing to keep that theme in.
I would encourage people check out “Minding The Gap” because it is interesting and will open your eyes to many social issues which some of us take for granted. You can check out their website for upcoming screenings.