“Everybody’s asking what they can do to help in this situation. What we think is this: Just be a good person.” – Russell Winfield
Be a good person. It’s a simple message. Everything about Absinthe’s recent segment release in honor of Black History Month from the film, Channel Zero is simple: the music by snowboarder/actress Gabby Maiden, the individual cuts, even the featured quote from Russell Winfield. “Just be a good person,” he said last summer when Channel Zero was being made. “If you’re a good person, everything will end up fine.” A-freakin’-men.
That simple message comes at a complicated time in America. The Black community is being recognized in ways it never has before. Or more to the point, following the George Floyd killing late last spring, Black people are being heard like never before. Americans are talking about race for the first time in a long time. Film companies, brands, media outlets across every segment of sport, action or otherwise are addressing race. And unfortunately, it’s not always well received. “We realized this year, that people will complain if you do something and complain if you don’t so in my mind, I was just like, ‘let’s do stuff and if people react to it negatively, that’s on them,'” Absinthe’s Shane Charlebois told me.
Absinthe released the tribute segment above online in late February and it was about as poignant as it gets without being heavy handed. And according to everyone involved, it came together seamlessly.
“Basically there isn’t much to it – every one of those people are personal friends,” Shane said. “Unless you’ve been living in a cave, this wasn’t the year to be quiet. I hit up Russell and talked with Gabby and said, ‘Hey this is all based in love.’ Any of us who come together to be a snowboarder or a skater, it has nothing to do with what you look like. Everything has to do with that mutual connection to that good feeling and we just wanted to acknowledge these people that have come before.”
Russell pre-recorded the message for Shane. (“He really is the true OG as far as Black people in snowboarding,” Shane said.) Gabby’s soft voice and easy sound anchored by the ukulele – her father is Tony Maiden, legendary singer/songwriter and founding member of the Grammy-winning band Rufus and Chaka Kahn – created a heartfelt track that was tailor-made for paying tribute to some absolute shredders: note Gabby’s lipside stalefish, Ben Hinkley’s lawn dart at early X, Keir Dillon’s timeless style, Stevie Bell going huge, or the young prodigy Dillon Ojo (RIP). Gabby’s music gives the section a deep emotional pull that, if you’re a snowboarder, hits you in the chest.
“When Justin (Hostynek) and Shane (from Absinthe) reached out and asked me to participate, it was after George Floyd’s murder and all the social injustices against Black America being brought to the forefront,” Gabby told me. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t coming from an exploitive place. They assured me the piece was to admire and celebrate the Black snowboard community and I appreciated their desire to highlight solidarity.”
The Stranger Things actress says she specifically channeled Dillon Ojo, the gifted snowboarder who died in Montreal in 2018, when she wrote the song, “Smiling Down” for the segment. “I looked within and found inspiration from those who’ve passed on, that they continue to give us strength to stay strong and keep going positively in this life,” she said. “I was hoping (Absinthe’s) tribute would embrace the Black snowboarding community by showcasing our talent, as well as our personalities. I thought the piece did a nice job of that, collecting some powerful clips and legendary moments thoughtfully and warm heartedly.”
Snowboard filmmaking is an art form all its own and Absinthe’s simple tribute certainly added to the genre’s rich library in the most positive of ways.