By Krista Daly
She got her first board at the age of 12 after seeing the X-Games in Philadelphia, and she’s been hooked ever since. Skateboarding for recent alumna Amelia Brodka is more than just a hobby. It’s her life. (Watch/read ESPN’s coverage of her documentary.)
“In a strange way, skateboarding has been a driving factor in my life since I was young,” said Brodka, a 2012 graduate with undergraduate degrees in Communication and Narrative Studies.
In high school in Bethel, Maine, skateboarding drove her to work hard. She wanted to earn a scholarship that would get her to California, where she’d be in one of the best areas for the sport.
Once accepted into USC, Brodka scheduled her classes in the morning so she could skate in the afternoons. She would take day trips to San Diego on weekends just to skate for a couple of hours on vert ramps, which Brodka says is essentially a big half-pipe that gives skaters more room for creative tricks.
“It’s more exciting,” Brodka said. “You get to go higher in the air, you get to go faster, and you can work on more technical tricks.”
In 2010, Brodka was one of the alternates for the women’s vert event at the X-Games. One year later she found out they were canceling some of the women’s events.
“That was the last straw for me,” said Brodka.
As she prepared to start her senior year at USC, Brodka decided to make a feature-length documentary that would show the perspective of marketing and media executives – and contrast that with the footage of women and girls skateboarding all over the world.
“I didn't understand why there was so little support for women in skateboarding,” she said. “I thought that maybe the people making these decisions weren't seeing the kind of growth that I've seen.”
Although more women are participating in skateboarding, they aren’t being recognized for it, she said.
“Despite this growth, opportunities for girls and women in skateboarding have been dwindling,” she said. “If you flip through a skateboarding magazine, you are almost guaranteed to see a half-naked model, but you very rarely see a female skateboarder.”
The idea for the documentary, “Underexposed,” came out of taking communication professor Alison Trope’s Gender in Media Industries and Products class. For the class project, Brodka created a magazine piece where she reversed the gender roles of the traditional magazines.
“The end product was a magazine showcasing women skateboarding at a high level and a few ads featuring static male models,” said Brodka.
The class tackles issues of people being marginalized and left out.
“Rather than having the students do a term paper, I've had them think about what is a key problem you see in a particular media industry and how can you address that problem through some sort of advocacy campaign,” Trope said.
Brian Lynch, the producer of “Underexposed,” said he was working on a web series when he met Brodka for the first time.
“We talked about approaches and certain documentaries she should see. I liked that she was more interested in finding out why things are the way they are so she could affect a change instead of just throwing blame,” Lynch said.
Brodka asked Lynch for tutoring in video production. Initially Lynch said he thought his involvement would be helping her learn how to set up an interview, how to communicate with the skaters she's shooting and to find the best place to be to get the shot.
“We went to San Diego to interview a couple people and at the end of the day she told me about her X-Games experience,” Lynch said. “It all clicked for me and I realized it was a story I wanted to help tell.”
“Underexposed” centers on Brodka’s story. But it didn’t start out that way.
She originally did not want to be featured in the movie, but when a first cut of the documentary was shown as a test screening in Trope’s class during the Spring semester, the question became: Whose story is it?
“Everybody in class, and even the people she was working on with the documentary, they were pushing her to make it her story, which she was a little hesitant about at first,” Trope said. “It was kind of hard for her to put herself in the center of it, despite the fact that right from the beginning the trailer for the piece focused on her and her experience of being left out.”
The main message Brodka wants to get out through her film is that women’s skateboarding is growing and should be recognized and supported by the skateboarding industry.
“I discovered that all of the people I interviewed, ranging from legendary skateboarders to VPs of Marketing, are very supportive of women in skateboarding,” Brodka said. “They just aren't aware of how to approach and promote this growing sector of skateboarding. My hope is that this documentary will give them some ideas.”
Brodka premiered the film last summer at a small venue in Orange County, where it was well received. It will screen at the Thin Line Film Festival on Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. in Denton, Texas.
“My understanding is that once it premieres at the festival, we can take charge of where we want to show it. Ideally it would be nice to pick up a distributor," she said.
She also coordinated a women’s benefit event Nov. 3 in Claremont, Calif., that not only featured professional and amateur female skaters, but was also a benefit to raise scholarship funds for battered women and their children.
“The event I put together produced a historic moment,” she said. “The first ever 540-McTwist to be done by a female in competition was done by a 12 year old who came out from Arizona to skate in the event.”