Film Review: United Skates

Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s United Skates is a thoroughly entertaining documentary. The film is a very impressive debut from the directors.

Roller skating is a popular subculture in the African-American community across the United States. The film explores the history and culture of skating, and highlights why rinks are now under threat… 

First time directors Winkler and Brown have pulled off quite an accomplishment with United Skates. They have created a documentary which finely balances entertainment and education. United Skates will teach viewers a lot about the culture of skating, whilst also entertaining them immensely. 

The narrative that the filmmakers weave is most impressive. The film engages with a well-constructed story. The initial discussion of why skating is so important is an astute introduction to proceedings. Speaking to well-known artists such as Salt-N-Pepa and Coolio, United Skates underlines why skating is more than just a past-time for participants. The film goes on to entwine various different aspects from the past and present to elucidate the significance of the subculture. Winkler and Brown circle back to each of the various elements, each time painting a little bit more of the picture. It is adept and assured work. 

One of the most significant aspects of the documentary is its emphasis on the history of the skating rink for black people in America. Winkler and Brown offer a great overview on the role of segregation, protests, and the sad situation of coding as the new segregation, with ‘adult nights’ and superfluous rules. 

This history, of course, has an impact on the state of rinks and availability today in the US. The filmmakers explore this in sufficient detail, interviewing rink owners as they offer explanations as to why rinks have closed at such a rate. The film does not lay out a dominant hypothesis, instead letting viewers speculate the various aspects at play. It is a better film for offering a multi-faceted approach.   

Winkler and Brown may not do anything innovative in its format. United Skates intersperses interviews, archival footage, photographs, and video of skating. But what the filmmakers do is tell a story incredibly well; generating interest, emotion and occasionally amusement.

United Skates is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.