Minnesota Mean Image

Minnesota Mean

By Jason Delgado | April 17, 2023

Sports can offer so much more than what a bystander may glance from the surface. Obviously, there’s teamwork and camaraderie involved in team sports. However, building up self-confidence, perseverance, and even fighting off depression are such powerful benefits of something that some people may only see as a game. Enter director Dawn Mikkelson’s Minnesota Mean, about the women of roller derby.

Honestly, before watching this documentary, I did not know that roller derby was an actual sport. I really thought it was more akin to professional wrestling, AKA “sports entertainment.” I was certain it had probably flamed out in the 1970s like disco. And yes, the women of roller derby come up with flamboyant alter ego names for themselves, such as “Smoka Hontas,” “Tonya Sharting,” and “Shiver Me Kimbers.” Still, I’m happy to say that roller derby is an actual sport, filled with blood, sweat, tears, and even a championship shown on ESPN3.

The heart of Minnesota Mean is the personal stories of the Minnesota RollerGirls team. Shiver Me Kimbers quit smoking, got herself into great shape, and, as a result, lifted herself out of depression. She did it all due to the sport. Sadly, she’s also suffered two miscarriages while playing, which ultimately ended her derby days so that she may have a chance at having children. Smoka Hontas uses her roller derby career as an example of strength for other young indigenous women in her community.

I still do not entirely understand the game’s ins and outs, but that is not essential. The movie shows a brief tutorial, which gives the viewer a good sense (besides the scoreboard) of what is happening during the action. What is readily apparent is that these ladies are She-Hulk-like tough, both physically and mentally.

“…the personal stories of the Minnesota RollerGirls team.”

There are some staggeringly hard hits during gameplay, but seeing some of the women take a freezing ice bath after a game cemented their toughness for me. An essential player to the team named Brickyard breaks her foot and struggles with emotions of feeling like she let her teammates down. She then fights through the pain and physical therapy to come back early for an all-important playoff run.

There’s an interesting spousal dynamic in Minnesota Mean with the male head coach being married to one of the players, which in all of my years of following sports, I have never witnessed. You can see in his eyes the love that he has for his wife. Admittedly, it would’ve been fascinating for the documentary to examine this dynamic even further. Also, one of the team’s biggest fans, who wears face paint and comes up with chants and funny parody sayings to shout out, such as “Winter is coming,” is the husband of a player.

It’s cool to see the passion and care for one another from the players and those who support them. Despite not knowing much about roller derby beforehand, the players’ stories made me quite invested in their quest for the ultimate championship prize, a Hydra trophy. The film also tells us early on that for many of these women this would be their last shot at playing the game they love before they would ultimately retire at the end of the season.

Minnesota Mean does what excellent films do: to show us a new little slice of life about something that we may not have even known existed. The players are so likable and relatable that you might even wear face paint to a roller derby.

Minnesota Mean (2023)

Directed and Written: Dawn Mikkelson

Starring: Smoka Hontas, Tonya Sharting, Shiver Me Kimbers, Brickyard, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Minnesota Mean Image

"…does what excellent films do..."

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