The Black Biker Experience
At The Vintagent, we’re interested in the stories we haven’t seen or heard before, and film is an ideal medium for telling stories. Today, on Juneteenth (June 19th), we celebrate films about the experience of African-American motorcyclists, although we lament they are few. There are almost no films about the early experience and deep history of African-American riders, like the board track racers we featured in the ‘Black Streaks’ article, or Bessie Stringfield, the cross-country rider and founding figure in the Motor Maids, or the story of Cliff Vaughs, the Civil Rights activist and filmmaker who played a seminal role in the creation of ‘Easy Rider.’
Via our parent organization the Motorcycle Arts Foundation we are actively laying the foundation to tell the Cliff Vaughs story on film: it’s production will be our focus starting Autumn 2020. We would also like to encourage filmmakers with such a story to tell: if you’ve got an idea for a motorcycle-related film about black history or any other under-shared narrative with a social justice angle, we’d like to hear about it, because that’s what our non-profit was created to do. Give us a shout.
Even when films are made about black motorcyclists, they are vexed with the problem of distribution. Websites like TheVintagent are one way to get the word out, but are limited in how we can compensate the producers for the high cost of creating a film. It’s our hope that the current climate of support for social justice stories will reach the decision-making rooms at the major online media channels, the Netflix/Prime/AppleTV nexus that now dominate film distribution. It’s a whole new scene today, so let’s see some new stories.
1. Sugar & Spade
“When I got my name, there was nobody around riding these bikes.” – ‘Spade’ George
‘Spade’ George and Austin ‘Brown Sugar’ are two life-long friends, brought together in the late 1960s by their mutual love for powerful custom built motorcycles. From Brooklyn, NY to San Francisco, CA, they’ve been front and center in the fast-paced biker world of guns, girls, gas, and the occasional run-in with the law. Even though they found themselves living on opposite coasts, their deep bond has been constant. These early iconoclasts have given their lives to the unique American chopper culture, with Austin’s phenomenal photos and sensational stories to prove it. Each exemplifies in his own way what’s best about these exotic machine builders and their way of life. Being among the first African-American chopper riders in NYC, and inspiring the next generation is only part of the story. ‘Sugar & Spade’ is the moving document of their reunion after 30 years apart, in the city where it all began. Watch the ‘Sugar & Spade’ trailer on The Vintagent.
Where can I watch the full film? We’re working on that with the filmmakers: currently there’s no portal for Pay Per View and no commercial host for this terrific film.
2. Take None Give None (2015)
“It’s an organization that might have some criminals. But it’s the same with the police. It’s the same with Google.”
‘Take None Give None’ follows the story of the outlaw motorcycle club the Chosen Few MC. Based in South Central Los Angeles it is the oldest explicitly interracial 1% club. After a series of raids by the LAPD in 2011 the club is at odds with itself, the city of Los Angeles and a local news media set on defaming their reputation. It tells the story of a complex family on the verge of change and takes a nostalgic look into the history of a motorcycle club through the eyes of some of its founding members. Watch the trailer on TheVintagent here.
Where can I watch the full film? As with many indie productions, distribution has proved impossible to date. As Mark Gardiner said in a review, “It’s basically ‘Sons of Anarchy’ crossed with Black Lives Matter. Surely there’s a cable channel that can sell that to its viewers.”
3. Outcast Forever
“They keep their tradition of being all black, wearing all black, and riding all black motorcycles.”
“In 1969 a group of rebellious black bikers in Detroit decided that freedom, non-conformity and brotherhood were not exclusive to whites only. At the time (and still today) blacks were not permitted to join most white outlaw biker clubs, so out of necessity the Outcast M.C. was born. This documentary is an in-depth look into their world and the unapologetic lifestyle they live. Filmed over the course of six years, Outcast Forever is a raw visual exploration that rips through the mystique and presents a unfiltered experience of a subculture within a subculture.” [From the filmmakers]. Watch the trailer on TheVintagent here.
4. 12 O’Clock Boys
“I’ve been on this earth for a decade and a coupla years. That makes me a grown-ass man.”
’12 O’Clock Boys’ is an amazing 2013 documentary film directed by Lotfy Nathan, and is a must-watch. The documentary focuses on urban dirt-bike riders in Baltimore, Maryland and one boy’s fascination with the group, dirt bikes, and his desire to join the 12 O’Clock Boys. The boy, Pug, was filmed over a three-year period starting when he was 13. The film also includes interviews with several members of the 12 O’Clock Boys as well as Pug’s mother, Coco. The 12 O’Clock Boys are a notorious urban dirt bike pack in Baltimore — popping wheelies and weaving at excessive speeds through traffic, the group impressively evades the hamstrung police. Their stunning antics are envisioned through the eyes of young adolescent Pug – a bright kid from the Westside obsessed with the riders and willing to do anything to join their ranks. Watch the trailer on TheVintagent here.