Pledging Allegiance To The United Skates Of America
At the end of a hard week, there’s no better feeling than letting your hair down and unwinding. For me, it’s a combination of running, writing and spending time with my kids. For African American communities across the United States, it’s roller skating. Shot across several big cities in the States, United Skates looks at the growing closure of roller skate rinks across the country and what this means for communities who have relied on these venues for more than 30 years.
Most of the documentary’s run time follows the lives of people from different walks of life and how roller skating has changed their lives for the better. Whether it be a single Mum with 5 kids or a chicago DJ who lives and breathes music, United Skates features a smattering of empathetic characters who we follow across the space of 80 minutes. It’s here where we understand their struggles, the racially charged issues facing this community as well as a growing mainstream appetite for big businesses like Home Depot.
It’s really this underlying theme around what commercialism means for these communities that really stands out here. In the UK, there are numerous youth projects being put into place to get kids off the streets and having seen firsthand what positive effect this can have, it’s disheartening to see these projects being methodically shut down, leaving many lost and desperate to find a way to blow off steam. Unfortunately, many turn to crime during these times. While we’re not explicably told this is the case here, seeing a news report about gun crime rising in LA after the lights are turned off in a skating venue for the last time speaks volumes.
The majority of the film is shot through handheld cameras too and while there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy from a stylistic point of view, this way of shooting does help us feel like “one of the family”. Breaking up these scenes are numerous face to face interviews with musicians and famous faces that paint a picture of how important these skating rinks can be. It also helps give the film some much-needed gravitas on the subject.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom and the film itself ends on a suitable high along with a look at some of the impressive dance moves conducted on the rink. With Macklemore’s song Glorious blaring in the background, these final slow motion shots of smiling, happy faces and a community brought together through a shared love of skating really is heartwarming. HBO’s United Skates is well worth checking out, shedding light on an important topic that many may not even be aware of.
Verdict - 8/10