It’s rare to see a film where all the male cast are in supporting roles. And it’s even rarer that you are not painstakingly aware that an all female cast was enforced to make some sort of feminist statement or to purely attract progressive audiences. Crystal Moselle’s indie movie Skate Kitchen, features The Skate Kitchen— a real all-girl skateboarding entourage from New York where the characters are heavily based on the girls in real life. The story, set in gritty New York, showcases their genuine experiences with skating, with being ‘credit carded’, fights with rival male skate groups, trouble with authorities, and though the dialogue is scripted, the film retains a raw edge that grips you from start to finish.
Moselle’s documentarian past is evident in this feature which offers a similar feel to her breakthrough documentary ‘The Wolfpack’ (2015). Being her first feature length film, Skate Kitchen fuses the style of sharp realism and Hollywood fiction. It's almost as if someone put a shiny Instagram filter over what would have been a Theroux-esque documentary.
Where the film deviates from Moselle’s earlier work is in the introduction of staged conflict between our protagonist Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) and mysterious love interest Devon (Jaden Smith). While it is entertaining to watch Camille stumble awkwardly around her first love, the conflict that arises from the romance feels a little contrived. The love triangle between the pair and Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), Camille’s best friend in the group, verges on unrealistic as it forces the non-professional actors away from the films authentic realism. The romantic plot was not awful by all means, but just didn’t add much to the overall experience of the film. Those moments of seemingly unscripted improv, when the girls are just hanging out, struggling to do skate tricks, and running around the city pissing off security guards, are the moments that make the film stand out. Actually, the whole film arose from Moselle catching Moran and Vinberg having a chat whilst riding on the G train in NY talking about... tampons. Moselle was instantly drawn in by their frank discussion noting how open and authentic they were. This intimacy of girlhood makes Skate Kitchen special, and some of my favourite lines come from those moments when the crass Kurt (Nina Moran) unapologetically speaks her mind, saying things like “boys are just so uneducated sometimes!”.
So, what’s so special about skater girls that talk about tampons?
Well, when you watch the film, never does it feel like there is a forced feminist agenda. You are merely following a skate group that happens to be female. But when analysing the film, the subject that it focuses on is important: shedding light on girls who are making a name for themselves in a male dominated sport. The story relays feminist messages of empowerment and sexual liberation with honesty. One of my favourite scenes from the movie is a simple moment, when Ruby (Kabrina Adams) puts lipstick on Camille just before they go partying. There is something about the way Adams applies the lipstick that you do not feel that it is for the benefit of men or anyone else for that matter, but rather a gesture of kinship like an arm of acceptance or reassurance— making a statement without needing to say anything.
When I met the crew in New York on their opening weekend at the IFC, I was struck by how close they were in real life. It was almost as if they were just meeting up to see a movie unaware that their faces were plastered all over the walls behind them. Adams whose character Ruby intrigued me the most in the movie, still exuded this quietly radical persona in real life. Considering the fact that The Skate Kitchen group got their name from comments from male skaters saying the girls belonged in the kitchen not a skate park, this was my chance to know about Adam's personal views on feminism, the progression of women in film, and how The Skate Kitchen and her fashion movement #freemyboobs aims to try to address issues on inequality. She replied:
“The industry has always been changing but slowly and now there’s just more light on the fact that it’s changing. As long as we live there may always be inequality which means people will always be fighting for it. With #freemyboobs I just want women to understand that they can be free to do and be whatever they choose… The Skate Kitchen will continue to uplift girls by being ourselves.”
Ultimately, Skate Kitchen is not a revolution. It is a reassurance that change is happening. You can catch the film in the UK from September 28th in select cinemas, and let me know of your thoughts.
(FYI: Kabrina’s favourite trick is the 180 Boneless.)