A couple things are starting to annoy Rachelle Vinberg, who plays lead character Camille in Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle’s coming-of-age film about a real-life skate crew from New York. The director of the award-winning documentary The Wolfpack (2015) had used the crew as the subjects of That One Day, her short for Miu Miu's Women's Tales series in 2016. After it’s critical success, Moselle turned the short into a feature film, adding Jaden Smith to the mix.
Skate Kitchen, in select theatres today, is being accused of a lot of things. Or at least, is being compared to a lot of things, even though it’s without a doubt the first feature film on female-specific skateboarders ever made. The only other “movie” on the subject is a 2013 documentary titled Underexposed: A Women's Skateboarding Documentary, which examined the sport’s rocky relationship with female pro-skaters.
The crew, consisting of Nina Moran, Kabrina Adams, Brenn and Jules Lorenzo, Dede Lovelace, Ajani Russell and Vinberg have had to deal with people questioning some of the cast’s abilities (“Can Jaden even skate?”), the frequent comparisons to Harmony Korine’s 1995 film Kids, and whether or not the film is “capitalizing” off skate culture. And to answer everyone’s questions, yes, Jaden can skate, but the film isn't about him. Yes, the two films are about youth culture, but they’re not the same. And no, they aren't capitalizing off the culture—they are the culture. But the fact that these young women, who are quickly gaining notoriety within a male-dominated sport, even need to answer these questions should come as no surprise.
We’re sitting in the offices of Magnolia Pictures just a few days before the movie’s release. Moselle and the whole crew are here, plus Alexander Cooper, one of their few male members, who is also featured in the film. The girls’ skateboards are scattered around the room, and their wardrobe is a mixture of jumpsuits, Hawaiian shirts, and Vans. Cooper lifts his hoodie to reveal a rib tattoo of Skate Kitchen’s logo, a bunch of bananas.
“Some people were saying that we’re using people that aren’t a part of the lifestyle to capitalize on it,” Vinberg tells me. “Like what the fuck are you talking about? Everyone in the movie is real.” The woman who made the accusation, who is a skater herself and twice the girls’ age, hadn’t even seen the movie yet. “When I told Crystal, she was like “Oh my god, when I was younger that girl used to bully us.”
Then there’s the comparison to Kids. “First of all, there’s barely any skating in Kids,” says Vinberg. Unlike Korine’s indie classic, the central theme of Skate Kitchen is skateboarding; from the first scene in which Vinberg gets “credit-carded” and has to get stitches, to the very last in which the crew tears down the street. The movie, which contained some scenes inspired by true events, follows Camille (Vinberg) as she "finds her people" amongst a gang of female skaters, going to first parties, getting into fights, and facing rejection.
Although the two films tell completely different stories, they're frequently being compared at screenings and within the press. “They’re similar in the sense that they both capture the essence of young people growing up in New York City,” says Lovelace, who plays Janay. “It’s just annoying that they say we’re copying it,” says Vinberg. “Here we are comparing them because of one element.”
"If you read interviews with the cast from Kids they were all actually pretty innocent, like a lot of them hadn’t even lost their virginity,” adds Moselle. “It was sensationalized, and if anything, a little unrealistic.” And as for the crew’s characters in Skate Kitchen? She reaches out to a nearby Moran, who is wearing the same hat she wears throughout the film and puts her hand on her shoulder. “That’s all them.”
Whereas Kids chronicled youth culture in general, Skate Kitchen is about the female experience, more specifically, that of young women who are ingrained in a culture still largely governed by men. In one scene, Vinberg is mocked for getting her period (the blood is really from an injury), and in another, Moran, who plays the funny and outspoken Kurt, is asked if she can do an ollie. “No, I’m a poser,” she answers.
In a candid moment inspired by a similar scene in “That One Day,” the girls share stories of microaggression and sexual assault. In another scene, the girls lay in the grass, talking existentialism. Although it was mostly scripted, Vinberg unexpectedly began crying. “It was so perfect,” Moselle shared. The end of the film is a testament to the durability of female friendship when a fight over a boy (Smith) is resolved with an apology through Instagram DM.
Despite the fact that the lives shown throughout the film are based on reality, Moselle and the crew are being forced to convince the public and the press of their validity within the skateboarding scene. Just moments before we spoke, Moselle cut off an interview with an aggressive male journalist insisting that she justify including that opening scene of Vinberg getting “credit carded.” Even the name of their crew was inspired by sexist comments on female skater’s videos about them belonging in the kitchen.
The best part about this story, something I discovered during my conversation with the cast, is that they don't care about anyone's stamp of approval anyway. Their crew is well known in skate parks across the city, and have been since long before the movie came about. “In the skate world people just know about us,” says Moran. “The skate world is a big ass family,” adds Vinberg. And within that larger family is the one in which Moselle has become a sort of surrogate mother.
When Vinberg injured herself badly in March, she called the director crying when her mom didn’t answer. Lately, the girls have been learning how to stencil t-shirts with their crew’s logo, and have been doing it all out of Moselle’s apartment (“It’s all over her house”). During the interview, Lovelace points to a spot of yellow paint in Vinberg’s hair (“I showered, what the fuck?”).
Even Moselle’s nails are painted bright red, with bananas stenciled on top. Throughout the interview, the girls joke and laugh, sometimes quietly speaking amongst themselves and scrolling through Instagram. Kabrina Adams, who plays Ruby, is exactly the shy but fashion-forward character in the film. Ajani Russell, who plays Indigo, recently bleached her eyebrows again, just as she appears throughout the film. Identical twins Brenn and Jules Lorenzo are as sweet, Moran as funny, and Lovelace as effortlessly cool. There is no difference between on and off screen; this is who they are.
And if you ask Moselle and the cast, even the way they met was effortless; it was meant to be. One day the director was sitting on the G train when she noticed Moran and Vinberg. “I was listening to them talking and [Nina] was telling some funny story,” says Moselle. “And then, I saw they had skateboards.” So, she approached them, and when the girls got off, she followed them to their next train. “You have the video of it,” says Vinberg.
Moselle takes out her cell phone and scrolls through her camera roll until she reaches the video. It’s only a few seconds long; Vinberg and Moran are on screen, skateboards in hand. “Hopefully we’ll see you soon,” says a younger-looking Moran. “It was nice to meet you, girls,” replies Moselle. And that’s it; history in the making. Because of this chance encounter, Moselle was able to make “the film she always wanted to see.”
When I ask what would have happened if they decided not to take the train that day, Moselle believes that fate would have eventually intervened: “We would have met,” she says. And we’re thankful they did because somebody has to tackle this boy's club. And the Skate Kitchen crew is more than up for the challenge.