SKATE KITCHEN Review: Shredding A Stereotypical Skating Culture

Director Crystal Moselle derails the skateboarding scene and shines light on a group of badass girls.

“The more visibility there is for women skating, the more people are going to realize, ‘Oh, this is actually a thing.’ It’s something that should have never not been taken seriously.” -- Professional skateboarder, Lacey Baker

In the 1970’s, Hermosa Beach local Cindy Whitehead could be found on the vert ramp or riding empty pools, the wind blowing through her long blonde hair while sunbeams glared down on her shoulders almost as strongly as the eyes of her male peers. Despite being the first female skater to have her own two-page article and centerfold in a skateboarding magazine and her becoming pro at only sixteen years old, skateboarding was, and to this day still is, a male-dominated sport. So, a couple of years ago when writer/director Crystal Moselle saw a group of girls on the New York subway holding skateboards, she approached them with respectful intrigue. Winner of the 2015 Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for her debut The Wolfpack, Moselle is no stranger to off-beat subject matter and spotlighting subcultures or lifestyles that may not otherwise garner much attention. Having grown up in the skate scene herself, she was immediately interested in learning more about the lives of these young girls and their love of skating.

Moselle’s short film, That One Day, stars Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Kabrina Adams, Jules Lorenzo, and Dede Lovelace who play the fictionalized characters of themselves in Skate Kitchen. The premise of Moselle’s feature revolves around the life of Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a loner whose passion for skateboarding is not approved by her overbearing mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who thinks that her ability to have children one day could be impeded by the sport. While browsing Instagram, Camille comes across a skateboarding group under the handle @theskatekitchen which invites other kids on the East Coast to come skate. Naive, lonely, and inexperienced with maintaining a group of girlfriends, she is quickly welcomed by amiable Janay (Dede Lovelace) and brash Kurt (Nina Moran). Camille’s mother discovers that she has been deceptively sneaking off to skateboard and as a result, kicks her out of the house. Crashing with Janay, Camille starts working at a bodega where she meets aspiring photographer and rival skateboarder Devon (Jaden Smith). Despite running with a group of male skateboarders who harass the girls over talent and territory, Devon is the more reserved, open-minded one of the group, and a budding friendship develops between Camille and him. She is then faced with the challenge of disclosing her feelings and details of her time spent with Devon to his ex, Janay. Delicately balancing each relationship, Camille skates on thin ice with those around her while simultaneously exploring the true nature of herself through poignant internal conflicts.

The film’s narrative centers around the everyday existence of Camille as she struggles with new experiences and the challenges of forming, maintaining, and recovering relationships with those in her life. Unlike other female-centered sports films such as Blue Crush or Bring it On, there is no ultimate championship at the end of the film the girls are striving to win. Instead, the focus is on a coming-of-age premise while the characters navigate the next steps in their lives and discover who they are, both independently and collectively as friends. In the opening scene Camille gets credit carded, a skateboarding injury where the board lands 90 degrees between the legs of a skater falling on top of it. Bleeding from between her legs, she is accused of getting her period, and in a wave of embarrassment quickly leaves the park. This scene aptly sets the stage for the rampant criticism girls receive in the sport and ignites the tone of the film as well as the stigmas it addresses.

Conversations among the girls are refreshingly transparent, progressive, and inclusive. Kurt speaks candidly and confidently about her attraction towards women, Janay struggles with jealousy and lack of closure from her relationship with Devon, and almost all of the girls vent about gaslighting in past relationships, gaining trust from their parents, and the frustrations of not being taken seriously as skaters. While walking down the street, board under her arm, Kurt snaps back at a guy who asks if she can do an ollie by saying “no bro, I’m a total poser”. It’s this kind of constant skepticism of the girls’ talents that mirrors how female skaters are mocked in real life. These encounters perpetuate the reservation and stigma of picking up a board, but also display the importance of finding your tribe and being around others that share similar interests regardless of gender, really.

The cast’s knack for acting is nothing short of impressive. Vinberg’s reserved nature, foiled with Moran’s bold and brazen personality, typifies the emotional spectrum of finding one’s self, confidently knowing exactly what one wants, and displaying no fear in going after it. Thanks to cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, the busy backdrop of New York City is slightly sunkissed on screen and serves as a dreamy escapism for mischief and entertainment. Moselle maintains the authenticity of the cast in real life from their personalities to their style, both in wardrobe and skating. Editing sequences glide smoothly as the girls skate across the concrete and are strategically cut when not only their tricks, but their relationships don’t work out. The attention to detail and truth shines through in almost a docu-style nature, and Moselle’s understanding of the skating subculture through a feminine perspective is evident. Social media is used as a conduit to both connect and dismember relationships throughout the film. The Skate Kitchen handle brought the girls together, while Camille’s apparent betrayal of befriending Devon is exhibited through bullying posts that cause a rift and exclusion among the girl gang.

Moselle’s feature accurately captures the passion and persona of present-day female skaters. While society has historically emphasized that women should be in the kitchen, the “skate kitchen” is a place for girls to get away from what traditional norms expect of them. The central story focuses on a multiracial sisterhood of skaters, but this by no means is a “chick flick” meant for female viewers only. Their tricks are gnarly; there is talent in front of the camera and behind; and the story is relatable for guys and girls alike complete with great gender role-reversal scenarios. The messages of the film are not stagnant as many of the girls actively continue to seek out more female skaters and advocate for inclusion within the sport. Moran is publically vocal about the stereotypes and prejudices she’s faced, and the rest of the crew join the ranks of those before them who paved the way for change. Skate Kitchen is an anthem to skating that simultaneously lifts stigma and supports young girls who want to pick up a board instead of a broom or a baby, which I have to say, is a pretty rad message embedded into Moselle’s latest cinematic accomplishment.