When America’s last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, a community of thousands battle in a racially charged environment to save an underground subculture –– one that has remained undiscovered by the mainstream for generations, yet has given rise to some of the world’s greatest musical talent.
Few people are aware that roller rinks remain a segregated space throughout the country. “Black Nights,” now often referred to as “Adult Nights,” can be found in nearly every major city, each boasting a vibrant music and skate scene original to their region. Baltimore is home to Snapping, Detroit has Open House, J.B. skaters reign in Chicago, and in New York/New Jersey they skate in trains and trios. “Adult Nights” are credited as incubators of East Coast Hip Hop, and West Coast Rap. From Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty by Nature in New York/New Jersey to Dr. Dre and Ice Cube in Los Angeles, roller rinks have long been a mecca for music and creativity. These nights are also safe spaces, where street rivalries are left at the door. And still, many white rink owners refuse to host adult nights, even though this community could keep them in business.
With an average of three rinks closing a month, United Skates takes a deep dive into the vibrant and celebratory world of African American roller skating through the eyes of three central characters: Phelicia, Reggie, and Buddy. Each living in a different part of the country, and each fighting to preserve a tradition that reaches deep into their family history, this film documents a small but monumental piece of American culture at risk of disappearing entirely.