The APAHM Project Day 16: Skater Girl
Film: Skater Girl
Directed by: Manjari Makijany
Where to Watch: Netflix
Why it Made the List:
Following the 2023 APAHM Project theme of self-identity, Skater Girl follows young Prerna as she discovers a passion for skateboarding while having to fight against her village and father's sexist traditions.
I'm not going to lie to you, I was both excited and disappointed to have added this film into the APAHM Project after my own fluke on my calendar. Excited because Skater Girl was on the official list up until the last day of finalizing and I was happy to see it included after all. Disappointed because it was another blog post and movie I needed to tackle while being behind on this project.
There are two things I learn every year while doing this project. One is that I should always start months in advance to avoid being behind and playing catch up. And two, that 9 times out of 10, a movie I was reluctant to watch, whether it because I am tired, or unmotivated, surprises me. I started watching Skater Girl at 11:30 PM, played it on 1.5x speed, and by the end credits, was completely motivated to stay up and write this post.
Skater Girl is the directorial feature debut of Manjari Makijany, who is quite the accomplished director. It is about Prerna, a girl from the village of Rajasthan who helps clean around the house. It is clear that Prerna's father does not value her education when he and Prerna go to pick up her younger brother Ankush from school. The teacher asks why Prerna was not at school and the father explains she has responsibilities at home.
But it isn't just her father who has these sexist beliefs. The next day, the teacher sends Prerna out of class to go clean because she did not have the proper uniform and failed to bring her textbook to class. I couldn't help but be reminded of the US school dress code that sends girls home for revealing "too much" skin which disrupts their ability to learn. Later that night, Prerna's mom suggests that she and Prerna work, which angers the father. He is worried of what the other villagers will think if he, a man, cannot provide for his family. It is clear that Prerna is very frightened by her father's authority, as his outburst instantly sends her into tears as she picks his spilled lentils off the ground.
The next scene, we meet Jessica, a 34-year -old London-Indian woman who is visiting the village to learn more about her late father. She meets Prerna, who on more than one occasion in the film, mentions the caste system. Ankush shows Jessica his makeshift board and she posts a video on Instagram. This causes her to reconnect with a friend, Erick, who is also in India and he just happens to be a skater.
The kids are all fascinated by this upgraded version of their board and take turns learning how to balance on the board. The kids continue to learn and fall in love with the sport and Jessica buys them all skateboards (and not any safety gear until way past the halfway mark, which is questionable). However, the adults in the village find skateboarding a nuisance and the final straw is when the kids all play hooky to skate. The officials blame Jessica for influencing the children. Determined, Jessica tries and fails to gain a permit or get money or land to build the kids a skate park. She meets with the Queen of the village and gives an inspiring speech. The children she's met while in Rajasthan have finally found something they are passionate about and can have ownership of. By encouraging the kids, especially the girls, they can aspire to be more than labor workers or house wives. She said she asked one girl what she wanted to be when she grows up and the girl couldn't answer the question. Jessica hopes that by expanding the kids' horizons, they will have new dreams to reach for.
The skate park is opened and one night Prerna attempts a drop in but falls and injures herself. This causes her to be unable to do her house chores which angers her father. The father accuses Jessica and makes assumptions that she is living with Erick out of wedlock and that her ambitions are a bad influence on Prerna. After Prerna sneaks out with a boy in a higher caste than her, her father burns her skateboard and is determined to have her married.
While getting ready for her wedding, Prerna is simultaneously missing the first ever National Skateboarding Championship. Desperate to skate one last time, she escapes with the help of Ankush and rushes to the skate park where her mother and father watch her compete. She is awarded a "special" award by the Queen for her bravery in the face of adversary and the screen fades to black.
Now there are a few plot holes in this movie, starting with the dang safety gear. The Queen gives Prerna a ride to the skate park, but what do they talk about? How did Prerna have time in her 45 seconds to literally get out of one dome and run to another to do the drop in? Why did she not do the ollie or any other tricks for her competition? How did Ankush compete AND make it back to the house in time for the wedding? How can Erick be gone from his teaching job for months? Lots of plot holes. But, this film was still a very heart-warming movie about defying societal and familial expectations in order to become your own person. Prerna says she loves skating because there are no rules and she feels free. It's also a sport that brings people together regardless of age, gender, and caste. Through skateboarding, the children, Jessica, and Erick are able to redefine what it means to be a boy or a girl in the village. I think that Makijany does a great job of making us sympathetic with Prerna. She is such a timid and shy girl who is afraid of so many things. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing those around her. But it's when you see her about to be married off to a man she met one time, desperate to be free that you really root for her. Her mother, who has been her supporter throughout the entire film, reminds her that she is a fighter. That strength has always been in Prerna, but she just needed a way to be shown that strength.
All in all, I think this movie is worth a watch. Ankush is charming, Prerna is passionate, their mother is compassionate. If you can look past the plot holes and the subtle white savior tropes, Skater Girl is definitely worth 100 minutes of your time (or less if you watched it on x1.5 speed :)).
Small Business Shout Out!
Today's small business shout out is to Pepper Bras. Yes, bras. Pepper was introduced to me the way all products are these days, through annoying Instagram ads. You're probably going to start getting them now too. The founders, who are both women, explained that most bra companies are run by men and therefore, usually cater to men's preferences. Jaclyn Fu decided to create a bra specifically for the AA, A, and B cupped lady, in order to empower small-chested women to celebrate their bodies even if they are not up to society's standards. She filled a gap (literally, there are no cup gaps) in a market where finding a well-fitted bra was nearly impossible. As an owner of several Pepper bras, I can say that they are comfortable and confidence-boosting. I would definitely check them out next time they have a sale!
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