Initially intended to be a documentary, Skate Kitchen from director Crystal Moselle morphed into a feature film after the success of her short, That One Day. Her acclaimed project used female skaters as subjects for the commissioned ‘Miu Miu Women’s Tales’, a series which critically celebrates femininity in the 21st century. The vibrancy of real characters of the New York skate scene provided plentiful source material for merging the documentary with teen drama as Skate Kitchen depicts the forming of a female subculture through the digital age and shows the city’s girl skaters grow in solidarity through Instagram messages.
Teenage rebellion quickly sparks the storyline as the aloof Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) takes a hard fall at the skatepark in the opening scenes. The very anatomically specific injury cleverly establishes how difficult men find it to comprehend ‘the female body’ in their masculine space. Completely bewildered by Camille’s wounds, the boys shout “is she on her period?” while Camille limps alone to the hospital. Moreover, as a result of her injuries her mother completely bans Camille from skateboarding, mainly worried that skating will damage her body to the point where “you won’t be able to have kids.” Inevitability this means for Camille learning to do exactly what she loves in spite of oppressive household expectations. Residing in Long Island, Camille is forced to secretly venture to Manhattan to join in the all-girls skate sessions.
Through skateboarding our lonely heroine begins to feel a sense of belonging within the skate community. The gang led by the uncensored, unfiltered Kurt (Nina Moran) are an eclectic mix whose fashion sense is almost as loud as their personalities. Captivated by their lawless spirit, Camille is inspired to leave her domineering mother and commit fully to life in the skate crew. Through her board she gains access to an exclusive world of parties and romance cut off to those not devoted to a life on four wheels. Moselle’s film does not depict an outrageous spectacle of teenage debauchery. Rather Skate Kitchen is the authentic experience of adolescent uncertainty with social expectations, sexuality and their own place in the world. Outside their reckless skate identities, the crew support each other during intimate discussions on aspects of girlhood, including the normalization of sexual assault. The crew’s nonchalant dialogues describing men who try to force them into sexual acts locates their anger in something they have not yet learned to understand. Still, they vow to start to get back at these men in their own way “it’s like feminism or something.”
The narrative is at its best when cruising alongside its protagonists as they negotiate adolescence through the therapy of just “hanging out”. Devon (played by Jaden Smith, the film’s only professional actor) represents the one disappointing element in the narrative. His character acts as a forced plot device which snags at the movie’s fluidity. Skate Kitchen, even as an empowering portrait of female friendship cannot resist the conventional, ‘they all fell out over a boy’ trope. Nevertheless, these weaker story elements are minor to the focus the film gives its raucous characters and urban environment. DP Shabier Kirchner’s racy camerawork allows the audience to feel part of an exhilarating city space and the moments that most elate Moselle’s young subjects.
Skate Kitchen is a valid coming of age tale with a powerful urban twist. Groups of girls gathered with their boards outside New York cinemas earlier this month and their transatlantic counterparts will undoubtedly do the same. While the movie uses the seemingly random logo of the actual ‘Skate Kitchen’, there is nothing random about the appearance of bananas on jacket patches, bag buttons and skateboards throughout America.
Skate Kitchen is a great movie facilitating a real movement in counter-culture, where women are finding solidarity finally taking up space in the world of skateboarding.