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Read various reviews of Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen or interviews with its cast of real-life skaters, and one is likely to run across one word to describe the leading ladies of the group: “tomboy.”
Skate Kitchen, a New York-based skateboarding band of teens and 20-somethings, has become a bit of a fashion-forward sports and lifestyle brand unto itself, and co-founder Rachelle Vinberg and her onscreen character, Camille, in particular, have been cited as such by those talking about the movie. Co-star Jaden Smith thinks writers can do better than “tomboy.”
“I don’t vibe with that word because it has the word ‘boy’ in it,” he told The Hollywood Reporter at Skate Kitchen’s New York premiere Tuesday. Standing on a carpet outside the IFC Center and with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, talent and journalists alike were dabbing sweat from their brows.
When asked what linguistic alternative would work in his book, Smith quipped, “I’ll get back to you.”
But writer-director Moselle, previously best known as the documentarian behind 2015’s The Wolfpack and here making her narrative film debut, later jumped in, saying, “They’re not tomboys! They’re just women — like anybody else — who skate.”
The Sundance hit, opening Aug. 10, highlights the successes and travails of a female-dominant skater group in a male-dominated subculture, and the distinction in word choice is an important one.
Moselle later added that she’s happy to share these girls’ stories onscreen while contributing to the greater cultural mandate for gender equality.
“I think right now it’s time for equality, so making a film that is very femalecentric and where they’re talking about issues that are really about women is important,” she told THR. “I set out to accomplish their specific story, and it just happened to involve that theme, which is amazing and so current right now. So I’m really happy that I was able to be right on the zeitgeist with that.”
Recalling how she first ran into the girls of Skate Kitchen while commuting on the G Train several years ago, Moselle says that it was Vinberg and Nina Moran that first piqued her interest. “Nina has this voice and she is so incredible and she just has that charisma and it really pulled me in,” she said. “And then Rachelle has this kind of more quiet, strong beauty, but also, like, a sadness to her. I wanted to find out more about them.”
Having never acted prior to Skate Kitchen, which charts Camille’s coming-of-age-esque journey from being an outcast Long Island skater to becoming a proud member of Skate Kitchen, the film marks the skaters’ feature film debuts. Considering her roots in documentary filmmaking, Moselle said that that was hardly the daunting task; she’s more comfortable working with nonactors in front of the camera, anyway.
“I think it’s because I’m a documentary filmmaker at heart. So I really just have a comfort zone working with nonactors,” she explained. “I feel like if I’m pulling out a version of themselves, it’s easier for me than trying to turn somebody into somebody else. But I’m really trying to work on the latter and to work with actors more and create some more fictionalized work.”
Smith later told THR that the film “definitely” showed him a new side to New York, and went so far as to say it changed his life — but he demurred when asked for specifics. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I encourage everyone to skate through New York City at nighttime with a bunch of homies, and then you’ll understand.”
Vinberg agreed, and said that she is excited to be able to tell the story of a girl skater who finds herself on the sidelines of a boys’ club. “When I first started skating and living on Long Island, I was the only girl. And it definitely was kind of intimidating going into parks because you get attention — and not necessarily bad attention — you just get it nonetheless,” she said. “They’re looking at you. I’d see girls all the time who were intimidated and sitting on the sidelines, and they don’t want to skate because they were nervous and they were the only girls. So [in Skate Kitchen], I was trying to portray them as well as [portraying] myself.”
As for being labeled a “tomboy,” Vinberg pays it little mind. “Honestly, when I was younger, I was always called a tomboy, and I always embraced that,” she said. “I guess a lot of people don’t like it because it’s like, ‘Why can’t a girl express themselves in masculine ways like going out and doing these sports?’ But I kind of just see it as, like, ‘Yeah, that girl is defying it in a strong way.’ I don’t hate that word that much.”
After the IFC Center screening, the celebration went on well into the evening with an afterparty at the Standard High Line Biergarten, with the cast and guests including Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Sasha Lane, Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer.
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