Home > Indoor Climbing

Josh Greenwood on The People of Climbing

Director Josh Greenwood on his experience filming his 2019 documentary 'The People of Climbing'

“If there is an actual desire to make things more equitable, then show that through the work and the continued commitment to that work. If you do want to change something, it takes more than a couple weeks.” – Josh Greenwood

Meet Josh Greenwood. He is a climber, a director, and the creator of an exceptional bouldering film called The People of Climbing. His 15-minute documentary took place 45-minutes Northeast of Montgomery, Alabama. He documented what would become the second annual Color the Crag festival.

Although a Colorado local, this Brooklyn-based director has spent his last decade in the city. While he found his love for climbing in Boulder, his passion for direction would develop in New York City.

As Greenwood moved between productions, he gained the experience he had sought for. While he progressed, he could not regret his decision to move east, but still, he felt homesick. He missed climbing in Colorado.

“I found a local climbing gym and started climbing again. I found this group of people. That group of people turned into Brothers of Climbing. That group was great because it was the first time that I had gone climbing and saw more than one other black person. We all gravitated toward one another. With social media being what it was, we eventually found more groups that started to form like Brown Girls Climb. That’s how Color the Crag got started.”

Color the Crag was created in 2017 by Bethany Lebewitz and Mikhail Martin. Lebewitz has been the CEO of Brown Girls Climb since its inception, while Martin ran the Brothers of Climbing Organization. Together, with the help of their Director of Operations, Brittany Leavitt, the 2018 edition of Color the Crag saw more than a 100% increase in participation from its inaugural year.

For Greenwood, the festival was impressive. “It wasn’t just people from the south. It was people from the south, it was people from the northeast, the northwest. We had people from Seattle, we had people from California, all over the place, in the first year.

“To my knowledge, it is one of the only things that exists like it and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make the film. I wanted people to know it existed, but also hopefully encourage them to do it in their local community and inspire that same amount of joy, excitement, and fun to change the dynamic of your local crag.” The film became a project to share and promote the festival.

“I didn’t really see people trying to document it in a big way. In the outdoor industry there are a lot of people that are co-opting our experiences and imagery. Using it for their own purposes and not really giving us credit or not paying us for our time. I wanted to hopefully bring an honest depiction of our community to make a story by us rather than an outside person. I didn’t want it to just be about climbing because I don’t think that climbing is ever ‘just about climbing.’ That’s one of the cool things about doing it.”

The Color the Crag festival was created, in part, to “make space for black bodies. There are people that don’t realize that just the opportunity to exist in some of these spaces is privilege in of itself. For the outdoor community, there hasn’t been a reckoning with the idea that for black people, just existing in the outdoors can feel like you are carrying tons of extra weight. That barrier-of-entry is so much different for people of colour and black people.

“It’s not just about train hard, try hard, and you will succeed. For us, a lot of the time, you have to deal with your own safety getting to the place. The national parks in the States were segregated for a long time. That fact is wild and not a lot of people realize that, so there are unintentional barriers that people have put up in the industry. But then there are very real, intentional barriers that have been set up in structures of power like the parks that are a newer change that we are still having to deal with. There are financial barriers and sponsorship barriers, a wide range of barriers that we haven’t really accounted for.

“I think the outdoor community has an opportunity to make some progress. When we think about any trip that you would want to go on, you understand that it won’t be comfortable the whole time, you don’t just wake up one day and climb V10. It takes stumbling into building a muscle memory to learn how to do things the right way. What I am challenging people to do is understand and to take it upon themselves to stumble through that work, particularly white folks.

“It takes a commitment. Not just by putting it on black people that are around you to do that work, it takes a commitment for you to invest yourself, and do some of that work. If you do have the privilege of existing in the outdoors as a white person, examine that, examine what you can do and challenge yourself to do that work. A part of that work is not just on a personal and emotional level, but in an infrastructural way. There are a lot of companies and a lot of brands that have an opportunity to do some real work.

“There are many companies out there that pride themselves on their progressiveness, but if they look at how many people they actually employ in positions that can affect change, that are people of colour, the number is really small. Even at the festival, there weren’t a ton of black folks that [brands] would send because they don’t have a ton of black people that work at those companies.”

While many climbers often put the pressure on brands to make the change, Greenwood said that there are many ways to help.

“If you have a gym, how much is your day pass? If you run a gym, and you live in proximity to a community of colour, how can you engage them rather than them having to come to you? How can you make it affordable to climb, all the time, and get hooked on it? It is wild to me how many people I teach, particularly black and brown folks, who just the idea of climbing feels impossible because they have been told that they are not allowed to exist in that way.

“I would like to challenge people to do the work to find that group within your neighborhood. I think, right now, that there are a lot of resource guides, and those are great, but it’s almost like that work is being done by black people for white people. What I would like to challenge people to do is engage not only groups but people. Is there a community group that has nothing to do with the outdoors that you can engage in your community?”

Greenwood has remained excited to continue his work in direction, but has recognized its expense. His film, The People of Climbing, was funded without external support. While climbing films that have followed a conventional narrative remain easily funded, films like Greenwood’s require further support.

The People of Climbing