Humanity Stoked, the debut film from Michael Ien Cohen, features a wide range of well-known skaters like Tony Hawk and Bam Margera, plus some people you had no idea were skaters, talking through problems from racism to sexism to transphobia to global warming to drug addiction.
If you’re a little skeptical about whether a bunch of skaters can solve the world’s problems, especially by talking about them for a few minutes at a time, so was I. But by the midpoint, the film locks into an irresistible thesis that suggests skaters are the perfect people to address our crises.
The root of all problems, the film argues: is fear. Fear of change, fear of the unfamiliar, fear of people you perceive as strange. The secret to progress is confronting fear.
And who is better than skaters at confronting fear?
Who’s In Humanity Stoked?
Artist Shephard Fairey, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson (identified as a former skater) are among those who talk about their own resistance to change, and certainty that humankind can break through to a brighter future if we can take the leap, like a skater falling into a half pipe. There will be injuries. They will be worth it.
The existence of the film is proof that we can do big things if we conquer our fears. “I’m literally a 50-year-old nobody from nowhere who’d never made a film before,” Cohen told MovieMaker after a screening of the film Thursday at the Sarasota Film Festival.
He was, in fact, a New York small business owner and skater who had always dreamed of making a film, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. He was dealing with depression and self-doubt, and saw the film as a way out.
The film opens with Cohen telling a publicist, who is politely skeptical of his efforts, how his film will be different from every other film about skateboarding. He not only persuades a wide range of skating stars and leading intellectuals and artists to tell their stories, but also gets everyone involved with the film to work for free, as he did.
Those included in the film include skaters Nyjah Huston, Lizzie Armanto, Boo Johnson, Vanessa Torres and Chad Muska, Amelia Brodka, Ray Barbee, and many more, Musical artists who contributed songs include Arcade Fire, Tom Morello, Michael Franti, José González, and many more.
All revenue from Humanity Stoked will go into a 501c3 charitable organization he created, the What Stops You Foundation, which is dedicated to improving education to help kids who may not be the biggest fans of traditional education to build confidence and love learning.
Think of those skater kids who loved rail slides in the parking lot but not class: Humanity Stoked is for them. It turns out some of those skaters turn out to be pretty inspiring philosophers.
One of the strongest parts of the film is that it doesn’t try to solve any of the massive problems it confronts: It just encourages all of us to talk about our fears, openly, and how we might get past them, and to invite everyone to the table, no matter their background.
It looks for common ground, and while that common ground might be a concrete ramp, it’s easy to see skating as a metaphor for any number of other scary-but-worth it pursuits.
Main image: Tony Hawk in Humanity Stoked.