BGG talks to: The Samurider, a real-life Bad Ass!

BGG talks to: The Samurider, a real-life Bad Ass!

Being a real life superhero is something so many of us dream about but rarely push to achieve it.  Shaina West, also known as The Samurider, was inspired by Anime after a motorcycle accident to become a real life bad ass. 

A martial art stunt artist and personal trainer, Shaina has accrued a huge and diverse following on her Instagram where she shows her journey of being a “hero for hire”.  Jay recently caught up with Shaina in after MCM Comic Con (London) to learn more this bad-ass Brit born beauty.


J: So tell me how you got into being a Stunt Artist/ Self taught martial artist?

S: I’ve always been a huge fan of anime, comic books, games, action movies, that kind of stuff. Four years ago after I had a motorbike accident, I spent a lot of time in my room binge-watching anime and I had a lot of time on my hands because I had been let go from work because I couldn’t fulfil the contract because I was injured.  So I became inspired [by the anime] to start doing Martial Arts training and almost become like an anime character.  It just a hobby that made me feel more empowered through what I was going through at the time.

I just started teaching myself from YouTube tutorials.

J: Oh wow!

S: Yea, in my house and at the gym.  So yea that’s how I started and then from there I’ve just been practicing what I see.

J: What was the anime series that inspired you?

S: Naruto. I’ve been watching Naruto since I was like 12.  I was watching that back to back and it’s super inspiring; the characters, the morals, the symbolism.  It’s made in a such a way that every viewer can relate to what’s happening to a character, a situation or a symbol that comes up in the anime. My tattoo, for example, is a symbol that keeps coming up in the anime.  It’s called “The Will of Fire” and it special in a way that the meaning is unique to character but it pretty much stands for the same thing, to me anyway, which is to be strong, to fight for what I believe in and to do what I love. There’s a lot I took from that anime and that’s why I decided to just go for it.

J: What style of  Martial Arts were you studying when you were teaching yourself?

S: The first one is a sports martial art called Extreme Martial Arts, it’s really big in the States.  It borrows elements from Aikido, Wushu and tricking as well.  So it’s a very modern style. I guess the simplest way to say it is Freestyle martial arts.

J: When did you start?

S: I started training myself Martial Arts in Autumn 2015.

J: …Three years?! Wait what, for real?  I thought you had been training since you were 12 years old or something!

S: Hahah aww thank you! No only three years.

J: So from your perspective as a Black Women, what’s it like to be a Stunt Artist? Is it very diverse?

S: Umm ooh! Not from where I stand at the moment, it probably is in other parts of the world but from where I am at the moment and from what I see it’s very much White male dominated.  For someone like myself, it puts me in a position where I’d like to say I’m at an advantage because there are not many people like me that do what I do.

J: Therefore you stand out.

S: Exactly, also a slight disadvantage because the general consensus when someone is looking for a stunt person is “Oh yea, we’ll get a stunt man” they’ll get the established white man.  It’s a little bit of a controversial thing to say but that usually is the case.

J: Don’t worry, our platform is the best place to say it!

S: Hahaha! So yea there are pros and cons I imagine but I’m seeing more of the pros.

I’m bringing something new, not only to the industry but I’m bringing something new to Black Women by going for something like this.

J: Exactly! Do you get messages of support or ones saying that you’ve been an inspiration to many Black Women who want are interested in Martial Arts/Stunt Work?

S: Yea actually, I do get a lot of messages like that.  I don’t know it’s weird for me, for example at MCM Comicon I would have people coming up to me saying “Oh my God, it’s you! Can I get a picture?” and stuff. It’s weird because people think that when you have a certain level of recognition or become a local celebrity (celebrity in any sense of the word), [it means that] your lifestyle changes.   I still have the same lifestyle, I still get on the bus.

J: With the way you’re going that will change!

S: Haha I hope so! The support is my biggest motivation now, whereas before my biggest inspiration was anime and my biggest motivation was to become stronger.  Now it’s to keep reaching people that send me these kind of messages, because of that I’m driven to keep going.

J: I feel it’s also just your presence that is important.  I follow a lot of Black Art pages on Instagram and I swear, I see you inspiring someone’s art all the time and I know it’s you.  I look at the tag and see @thesamurider and I’m like YES!  So your presence inspires art which then inspires stories which then inspires movies and comics and things like that.  It’s really good that you’re out there because if not we [Black Women] wouldn’t have anyone to think about in terms of representation.

S: Thank you!

Art by Cameron Knitght. Twitter: @cknightart

J: Now that you’re out here doing your stunt work and martial arts, are there are specific goals that you want to achieve?

S: Yea actually my biggest is to be in the next Black Panther film.

J: Oh my God, yes you should be! If you were going to be Dora Milaje, you’d have to shave off your hair!

S: I’d do it! It would hurt me but of course I’d do it! I did apply for the first one several months ago, I didn’t hear anything back but that may have been for many reasons, I’m not based in the States etc.  At first I was a little bit disheartened by it but I’m a lot better now than I was then and I know more now than I did then.  I believe in timing, timing is everything so that is what I’m working towards.

Other personal goals that I want to be able to achieve is being able to learn more skills, weapons, learn how to trick so that when I am hired for big jobs I can deliver.  I want to get faster and stronger.

J: Do you have mentors/teachers now or are you still self taught?

S: I’m still self taught when it comes to my weapons and martial arts. I have recently started a partnership with a movement company that is going to help me improve my flexibility which will help me with my Martial Arts.  I’ve also started a partnership with a Hot Yoga company, Fierce Grace Yoga.  I’ve recently picked up a Tricking Coach to learn how to do parkour.

J: So I know you like anime, I know you like gaming.  Tell me about your gaming hobbies.

S: I don’t get to game as much as I used to because of training.  I work as a personal trainer and do freelance stunt work but when I do get a chance to play games, my favourites to play are platform games, you know like open map Tomb Raider style, Metal Gear Solid games. In my childhood I would play at lot of Spyro the Dragon, which was the first game I proper fell in love with.  I’m so excited for the re-master, I’m definitely getting it.   FPSs as well, I like COD campaigns and the Zombie modes.  My favourite kind of games have an interesting campaign, my favourites are Beyond Two Souls, Heavy Rain as well from the same creator.

J: Are you going to be playing Detroit: Becoming Human?

S: I haven’t heard of that you know.

J: It’s by the same people that made Heavy Rain and it’s got Jesse Williams in it.

S: Yea I’ll check it out, thank you for telling me that!

J: What would be your ideal anime, game or film if you could make it from scratch?

S: I’m going to start with the game because that’s something I haven’t thought about too much.  An ideal game? Hmm… I really like fighting games and I really like adventure so something like God of War has a bit of both.  So many something like that but with a selection of characters to play the campaign with.  I want diversity to be a big thing in games because games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken tend to only have one or two token Black characters.   It would be good if we had an equal amount of ethnicities in the game in general because representation is such a big thing and growing up I never really had that.  Tomb Raider, someone I idolised, was a White Woman.  Chun Li, who I loved, was supposed to be Asian but she still looks like a White Woman.  I’d even put a little bit of Hip Hop in the soundtrack for people like myself to really get into it.

I’ve got ideas for film; I’m looking to write a TV series based in London.  It’ll be something that’s never been seen before, it’ll have action and drama. That’s going be coming soon.

J: Oh, you’re already working on it?! YESS!!

S: Yea! I’ve already spoken with a producer and they’re happy to work with me on this.  It won’t just include Black people but Black people doing fantasy which is something we just don’t see on TV especially in London.

J: That is flipping amazing!! I can’t wait to see that! So to conclude, is there any advice you’d like to pass on to women that would like to get into Martial Arts/Stunt Work?

S: I get a lot of people asking how did I start and the thing that I try to advocate the most is that the internet is at your disposal. I learnt everything I know from the internet.  In this day and age, there isn’t anything that you can’t learn from the internet in one way or another.

Also, what I would recommend first is to strengthen yourself – mind, body and soul.  Start being more active, prepare your body for what you’re about to put yourself through.  Then from there, if you want to do the self taught route like I did, search tutorials for your martial art of choice.  Use the internet, just do it.

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A Way Out….of your friendship?

A Way Out….of your friendship?

When’s the last time you tested the foundation of your friendship with a friend? If it’s been a while and someone’s looking a little shifty, you might want to play A Way Out with them.

As someone who loved co-op games growing up, A Way Out was a welcome modern touch on a nostalgic feature.  There is no single player mode to this game, you and your partner in crime are Vincent Moretti and Leo Coruso; American prisoners convicted in the 1970s that have to work together to escape from prison and stay on the run from authorities whilst simultaneously attempting revenge on a mutual enemy.

The game is directed by film maker Josef Fares, who has turned his hand to game design, his first title being Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons which received critical acclaim.  Knowing this, it’s no wonder the story is so well crafted. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the prison break happens fairly quickly, which was great because the story continues and we were seriously worried we would end up in another The Order: 1886 situation, feeling unfulfilled by the game.  The story and characters unfold throughout the duration of the game, via cut scenes and gameplay, keeping us heavily engaged and turning what could have been a very gimmicky experience into well made movie that you can play.

Image source: https://bit.ly/2I213OH

Playing as Leo and Vincent means that you and your “friend” will approach situations differently.  Leo is a hot head, punch-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy; whilst Vincent is more calculated but less intuitive. We immediately adopted their characters, talking about:

“That’s why you got mollywhopped by the guard last time ’cause you too damn violent!”

and

“I said drive slow! DRIVE SLOW! I thought you were the discrete one?!”

The gameplay is definitely entertaining, the developers (Hazelight Studios) set out to create a co-op game that is “unique and different” and it’s safe to say they surpassed that goal.  The cooperative element is a well placed thread throughout the game; when moving heavy objects, distracting guards, infiltrating villas in Central America, car chases and when making major decisions that impact the story. Hazelight Studios achieved a good balance to ensure co-op was established as the nature of the game and not just a novelty to make the game “different”.

Image source: https://bit.ly/2ruH9BI

The game manages to stay true to its style, with exciting interweaving chase scenes in various locations as well as incorporating a few unexpected changes such as a 2D platformer fight scene just to mix it up a little bit.  In addition to that, there are mini games and activities throughout the game to offer a change of pace and tone, you know, to add some levity to the fact that your friendship is being tested.

Taking some time out from being an escaped convict. Image source: https://bit.ly/2wwuC5Y

The representation of Black people/POC in the game? I mean, it’s okay…the first POC in game are two non-white Middle Eastern and/or Arab men who get shot. There’s Black man with a speaking role who is a 2nd-in-command lackey that either disappears or dies; I can’t remember.  You do have a Black Woman (YAY!), the sassy (…damn) cautious arms dealer; a friend of Leo Coruso.   Then when you travel to Mexico, again the Mexican mobs pose as disposable lackies.  So it’s not devoid of representation but in my opinion, the POC are essentially extras in the movie.

See? Sassy. I told you. Image source: https://bit.ly/2FXQwhN

*cue W’Kabi voice* “It’s just more of the same”

However if I’m honest, it doesn’t bother me or take away from the game too much in this instance. It’s just another game to add to the everlasting list of games with middle aged White men as the protagonists; another day in the gaming world. There is also a line from Leo about Africa being undesirable to travel to and that it has “lions and sh*t”, which I side-eyed but really it reflects Leo’s character and how much of a non-entity would be to me in real life.

I will say the game is not very challenging; you get involved in more high-octane action towards the end of the game but even then it’s not very complex.  I do think a little more challenging content would have kicked the game up a notch, however the story, the interweaving and entertaining gameplay, and easter eggs had us engaged, bickering and cooperating at the edge of our seats more than once.

Image source: https://bit.ly/2ruH9BI

Hazelight has reminded me to not sleep on co-op games, and I look forward to seeing more games from the studio. All in all I would definitely recommend you to grab your PC/Xbox/PS4 and a friend to play A Way Out.  Another great thing is you only require one copy of the game; another thing to fight with your friend over… Good luck!

Why I created BGG.

Why I created BGG.

When I was growing up, gaming came into my life in the form of a Nintendo and hasn’t left since, but as I grew I began to feel more and more like this was community in which I was: 1, an outsider, and 2, invisible — because of my sex and race.  This didn’t just stem from personal experience either.  Yes, sure, I held resentment towards the young boys that never shared their consoles when I visited or the ones that thought my love for gaming meant my unicorn hand should be promised to them in marriage.  But I noticed that a lot of other gamers had something that I didn’t. Something that would help make my gaming experience ten times more enjoyable, community.

So in 2015, after abandoning my own personal gaming channel pursuits and being fed up of experiencing both direct and indirect misogynoir whilst gaming/streaming/breathing as a black female gamer; I created the Black Girl Gamers community on Facebook, inviting a few women I had met via Blerd (Black Nerd) Twitter.

Three years later, the word had spread and the community surpassed 1500 members attracting the interest of platforms such as BBC 4 Women’s Hour, Broadly/Vice, GAME digital, Blavity and more.

“Jay-Ann Lopez’s online community Black Girl Gamers is a safe space for women of color who feel otherwise excluded from gaming” – VICE

During this time I became more vocal about the lack of authentic representation of Black women or characters in games.  The reason for the inauthentic representation is clear; there is also a lack of diversity behind the screen…

the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) surveyed 963 people working in the games industry and data from respondents found that when it comes to diversity, 74% of workers are cis males, 61% are white/caucasian/European, and 81% are heterosexual – Mashable.com 

If you combine this with the fact that even POC in the industry may have subconscious bias to view whiteness as the norm, then it becomes clear that the apparent “push for diversity” is a superficial attempt.

After understanding the state of “diversity” in gaming, or lack thereof, it’s obvious to see why games and development companies lack adequate representations of Black women/men and/or people of colour.  This negligence that Black people, Black women in particular, feel in the gaming/streaming community isn’t new though.  We experience it in many facets of life until we say “F*ck it, I’m doing it myself” — this is how BGG came into existence.

 

Concept development of our BGG characters.  Art by Chris Brunson (@zionarca).

Black Girl Gamers has developed from solely being a safe space to being a progressive one; with this website providing a platform for Black women to voice their opinions about all things gaming. Granted, there will be some opinions and sentiments that not all Black women will agree with because we are not a monolith – and that is the point of BGG; to increase the visibility and influence of the variety of Black Women that support the gaming industry wholeheartedly.

In addition to our gaming content, store and website, we aim to nurture relationships between BGG game developers and companies in order to help facilitate the goal of equal and authentic representation.

I am so grateful to the BGGfam; our supporting network consisting of people from all walks of life that understand our goal and are not threatened by it. To those who find an issue with this community, that’s okay, it’s not for you.

Photo of BGG courtesy of GAME digital (Belong by Game)