Unless you’re a girl who skates, you’ve probably never been ‘credit-carded’. It’s something that happens when you try to land a jump and it backfires – not in the figurative sense – rocketing your board perpendicularly into your vaginal region. Blood gush. Humiliation. Hospital. Stitches. It’s absolutely gruesome, and it’s what happens to the character of Camille (played by Rachelle Vinberg) in the opening salvo of Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle’s new vérité chronicling the exploits of a downtown New York City, all-girl skate crew. It also happened to Rachelle herself, shortly after filming. “Isn’t it crazy?” she says, pulling out her iPhone to show her receipts in the form of a gory slideshow. “I was bleeding on the ground and laughing because I couldn’t believe it. Then I went to the hospital, just like in the movie, and in the car, my mom said ‘no more skating’, just like in the movie. It was the same shit. I was like... ‘Are you serious?!’”
There is indeed an oracular quality to Moselle’s first feature-length narrative, following on from her documentary The Wolfpack, a hit at Sundance in 2015. The film is uncannily predictive, drawing from the real experience of its subjects as they portray lightly fictionalised versions of themselves. When the director approached Vinberg and her friend, young skateboarder Nina Moran, on the train and asked if they would be interested in making a short film, the idea for Skate Kitchen had not yet formed. It was after the experience filming this project (which became “That One Day”, released by Miu Miu as part of its Women’s Tales programme) that the IRL Skate Kitchen began to take shape. An imaginary skate crew on-screen, the idea crossed over into the young women’s lives and became real – an experience reversed again in Moselle’s new film.
“Rachelle (and I) met on YouTube as 12-year-olds trying to make skate videos,” Moran explains. “We were friends over the internet for, like, two years until we met at this ‘girls’ sesh’ at House of Vans, and then we instantly became friends in real life. One day, we were taking the G train and talking loudly, and Crystal overheard us and came over and asked if we wanted to do a short film. She was like, ‘Are there more of you?’ I knew Dede (Lovelace) and Ajani (Russell) from high school, and Kabrina (Adams) through other girls in the city that I used to skate with. I knew the twins (Jules and Brenn Lorenzo) from the Chelsea skate park. So I brought everybody together.”
“While we were doing the short film, we were talking about it and we were like, ‘We need to stick together because what we have is really awesome, it’s magical,’” recalls Russell. “And Rachelle was like, ‘Let’s be a skate crew, I already have a name.’ She would watch girls’ skate videos on YouTube and sometimes in the comments guys would say, ‘She needs to get back in the kitchen, go make me a sandwich!’”
“The idea,” deadpans Moran, “is that if it’s a kitchen we’re allowed to be in it, so we’re skateboarding over here in our kitchen.” Just like that, The Skate Kitchen was born on Instagram. But Skate Kitchen the movie was intended as something else. “I originally wanted to do a documentary,” says Moselle. “I was in Poland at this incredible film festival called New Horizons, and I saw this movie called All These Sleepless Nights, which follows these two boys around for a year and a half.
It’s kind of a documentary, but it has these narrative arcs where (director Michal Marczak) shifted things with his subjects to make it feel like a narrative film. So there I was, on the jury with all these creative, out-of-the-box filmmakers, and I saw Kim Yutani, who is now the head of programming at Sundance. I showed her the short, and she said to me, ‘Why are you going to make a documentary? Why don’t you just expand what this is?’ After that, I decided to make a feature film. Then I became psycho for a year.”
To develop the story of Camille, a young skater who commutes to the city and falls in with an all-girl skate crew, Moselle followed the gang and pulled anecdotes from their everyday lives. “The character (of Camille) and her whole journey is similar to mine,” says Vinberg. “(Like) the fact she’s from Long Island. I take the train into the city and I was taken in by Nina and Kabrina. They did teach me a lot and I did fight with them, specifically with Nina. I was naive and didn’t understand how things worked, so that part is all true. It was hard filming sometimes, because we would do a scene based on something that had happened the day before and, like, I wasn’t over it! It was a big dose of introspection. I was like, ‘Oh my god... I’m an asshole. I’m mean!’"
“I’m so inspired by these girls,” Moselle explains. “It was easy. (I said), ‘Let’s hang out and talk about what this movie is going to be.’ We spoke about things happening in their real lives. Then we decided there needed to be a love interest and Rachelle was like, ‘Oh, you know, Jaden (Smith) hit me up on Instagram, maybe he should be in it – and he can skate!’”
For his part in the film, Smith had the particular challenge of immersing himself in a world, and a community, that was already intact. “It was about letting (the girls) show me,” he reveals. “Just open-mindedness – not really talking, just listening. And when I wasn’t talking, I really understood how everybody else spoke. I wanted to listen and absorb it.” For someone who traverses the worlds of music, fashion and movie stardom, while operating as a centre of gravity for the Calabasas multimillionaire jet-set, the notion of playing a supporting role in an all-female indie flick might seem odd. But Smith considered it a no-brainer. “When Crystal reached out I’d already seen The Wolfpack and was like, ‘Oh shit, she’s the real deal,’” he says. “I’d been making skate videos already in California, and she was like, ‘Let’s really get into this skate film,’ so I was 100 per cent down, no question.”
The process of assimilating into the film’s milieu proved not only an exercise in naturalistic acting, but one of catharsis. Sitting on set as his cast-mates joke around, nap, film each other and get dressed up in his streetwear brand, MSFTSrep, Smith grows emotional talking about the community he now acknowledges himself a part of. “People treat me like I’m not a normal human so much, that you start to believe (it), like, ‘Am I not a normal human?’” His eyes begin to mist over. “I didn’t always get to hang out with normal people when I was young. So being older and being able to hang out with the big kids and play with normal people is fun. When I go to skate parks, people are like, ‘Oh shit, is that Jaden Smith?’ for about the first five minutes. Then after that, it’s totally fine and I’m another skater. Because of this movie, people in the skating community won’t be that surprised to see me at a skate park. They’ll know from a friend, or a friend of a friend, that they saw me the whole summer when I was in New York shooting the movie and skating. I feel like I now have a home in the skate parks of New York.”
“It’s important to see girls supporting other girls skating. I mean, guys have been at the forefront of everything for so long” — Dede Lovelace
“I got some great advice from a producer who makes movies with real people and actors together,” says Moselle, “because I was worried about my non-actors. They told me, ‘You don’t gotta worry about the non-actors, you gotta worry about the actors, because their authenticity next to the non-actors is going to be difficult.’ I was so thankful to work with Jaden. He came to New York and (was) with us for two weeks. He hung out and really immersed himself.” On the heels of The Wolfpack, which depicted the lives of film-obsessed downtown New York brothers who were sheltered to the point of never leaving their apartment, it’s interesting that Moselle has again found herself in a bit of a mothering role, presiding over a crew of rowdy teenagers. She laughs at the symmetry. “You do attract certain things,” says the director. “But I like working with a group and creating something together; it’s an ensemble process. It was mainly just me hanging out with them and amazing shit would happen. We would sit in my house and they would be talking about tampons and Dede would be showing her vagina and I’d be like, ‘What the hell?!’ I’d write notes about that and it would become a scene.”
“Crystal is a very special person, because she gets extremely close to her subjects,” says Moran. “She would make us feel so comfortable that we believed we could do anything. She has a way of looking at life like, ‘Anything is fucking possible.’ I think that kind of rubbed off on us. It was good that we had someone like that, because we’d never done anything like this before.”
That banzai spirit is what led to the founding and proliferation of The Skate Kitchen, the crew and community. Perhaps the most impressive byproduct of Moselle’s work with the girls is that The Skate Kitchen family has grown to nearly 100,000 followers. Plenty of these fans are young women aspiring to skate, who come back to keep up with the gang and watch all their videos, many of which are directed by their resident videographer, Kabrina. Each member has their own story of how they began skating: Vinberg learned from her cousin, Moran began in defiance of boys in her school, Russell was inspired by Moran, and so forth. The idea that they are now inspiring thousands of girls to skate is one that gives them an immense sense of excitement and pride.
“Pharrell once said something like, ‘Don’t start a trend, start a movement,’” says Lovelace. “We never fathomed it could get to this point, but it’s relieving to see that we’re changing people’s lives, even in different countries – and not just girls, (but) guys too. It’s refreshing for people to see this group of girls who are confident, supportive, diverse, and just doing what they enjoy. We try to support each other by doing sessions and even just responding to messages, like, ‘What board should I get? What do you think of these wheels?’”
“I think it’s turned (the collective) into a representation of empowerment,” says Adams. “A lot of girls will message me saying my videos really helped them with their skating, or that they don’t have other girl skaters in their town, so it means a lot for them to watch us online.”
“While we were doing the short film, we were like, ‘We need to stick together because what we have is really awesome, it’s magical” – Ajani Russell
Vinberg sees the lack of pretence and conventional ambition as key to the ethos of the Kitchen. “We’re just girls who want to support each other – nothing more than that. We’re not a skate team, and we’re not an exclusive group. I just want to portray skating as something fun you can do with your friends. Not everyone is going to be a pro skater. Not everyone wants to be. When we do meet-ups these girls come out and they’re a little starstruck because they’ve only seen us on Instagram, but I think of it like, we’re all just friends. Everyone in the skate community is family. There is this big idea right now that you have to be different, or be the best at something. But it’s OK to be average and normal. What’s so wrong with that? Our society likes to say, ‘Be unique, be different,’ and that’s great and all, but it’s annoying if what you like and enjoy is not different.”
Naturally, the Skate Kitchen platform also exposes the girls to certain amounts of typical male harassment. “Girls get ridiculed so hard in the skate scene. I could tell you stories,” says Moran, getting worked up. “And the only reason is because boys get intimidated when they see girls doing something they’re used to only seeing boys do.”
“You get a lot of, ‘Do you want me to teach you how to use that?’” mimics Russell, rolling her eyes. “I got messages yesterday that said, ‘You can’t ride for free. Girls have to be good to skate, or else you shouldn’t be skating at all.’ But how do you get good at skating? You have to skate! If you see a boy at a skate park and he can’t skate, you know he’s learning and that he’s trying. But with females it’s like, ‘Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing it.’ There’s this idea that women are fragile and shouldn’t do things where they can hurt themselves. I don’t understand this idea.”
“You will look stupid,” says Vinberg. “It’s a metaphor for life, really.” “I really enjoy it when guys respond to us positively,” says Lovelace. “A lot of dudes I skate with on the Lower East Side are like, ‘What you guys are doing is dope.’ I appreciate that. And I understand, from personal experience, that a lot of guys get jealous because ‘girl skaters’ wasn’t a thing before, so now companies are trying to profit off of it. Some guys feel a type of way because girls are getting campaigns and jobs (when) some of them aren’t getting those opportunities. And I get it! But it’s still important to see girls supporting other girls skating. I mean, guys have been at the forefront of everything for so long.”
For his part, Smith is more than happy to embrace the whole crew. “Normally, when you’re done shooting a movie you just go your separate ways,” he says. “With this one, their lives haven’t changed. Or maybe they have changed, because they’re famous now, but they are still doing the same things. This is their life. You can’t make a movie out of it because they’re already living it. Crystal just saw that and decided to capture it. It’s honestly so cool.”
On the set of today’s shoot, giving out clothes to the girls and preparing to board another flight for another project in another city, it’s clear that Smith holds a special place in his heart for The Skate Kitchen and the time, however brief, that they spend together now the movie has wrapped. His feelings echo those of the audience: in the final scene, a languid stretch of skating shot in the pinking magic-hour sunset of the Lower East Side, the film latches on to a piece of your spirit. “The emotional experience is like, ‘Dude, I just wanna live in the movie for-fucking-ever,’” says Smith. “If I wasn’t famous and didn’t have all this shit going on, and I didn’t have to fly to all these different places all the time, I would just be here with these guys, every day just skating. That would be my vibe.”
Image 1: Kareem wears faux leather shirt Kawadian Editions, FF logo wool skirt Fendi, socks Happy Socks, trainers Louis Vuitton. Anjani wears hoodie her own, patched culottes Eckhaus Latta, socks SockShop, trainers Prada DeDe wears hoodie MSFTSRep, Shibori dyed jeans Eckhaus Latta, socks Falke, trainers Nike. Alex wears wool coat with leather sleeves Louis Vuitton, t-shirt MSFTSRep, wool checked trousers Fendi, trainers Nike, earring his own, necklace The Shiny Squirrel. Kabrina wears silk bomber jacket Undercover, vintage t-shirt stylist’s own, trousers Prada, socks Pantherella, trainers Adidas. Cj wears t-shirt MSFTSRep, wool checked trousers Gucci, glasses his own. Rachelle wears coat Raf Simons. Nina wears nylon windbreaker, track pants Alexander Wang, trainers Nike, cap her own. Jules wears t-shirt Raf Simons, chain necklace The Shiny Squirrel, pendant necklace Dee De Lara, earrings her own. Jaden wears shearling coat Louis Vuitton, t-shirt MSFTSRep, Bum Bag Supreme. Bren wears vintage top Atika, corduroy trousers A.W.A.K.E, all jewellery, bra her own.
Image 2: Kabrina wears printed shirt Found and Vision, plastic satin biker jeans Kwaidan Editions, trainers Converse, socks Pantherella, jewellery her own. Nina Wears deconstructed peasant hoodie Gypsy Sport, track pants adidas, trainers Vans. DeDe wears long sleeved embroidered rings top Paco Rabanne, sports bra Nike, trousers Undercover.Anjani wears sports bra Tommy Hilfiger, sequin trousers Halpern, trainers Vans, choker her own. Rachelle wears all clothes and accessories her own.
Hair Tomo Jidai at Streeters using Oribe, make-up Susie Sobol at Julian Watson Agency, talent Jaden Smith, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams, Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Dede Lovelace, Jules Lorenzo, Brenn Lorenzo, Karim Abdul Callender, Alexander Cooper, Carlos Javier Ortiz, set design Jesse Kaufmann at Frank Reps, photography assistant Timothy Shin, styling assistants Rhiarn Schuck, Tabbytha Janeen, Madison Daniels, hair assistants Kuma, Shannon Rodriguez, lighting assistants Will Englehardt, Danny Lim, digital operator Jonathan Nesteruk, production Mary-Clancey Pace at Hen’s Tooth Productions, production assistant Katie Tucker, post-production Two Three Two, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein at Starworks Group
Skate Kitchen is in UK cinemas from September 28