Real-life New York-based female skateboarders Dede Lovelace, Moonbear, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell and Rachelle Vinberg, who all starred in director Crystal Moselle’s 2018 docu-drama movie Skate Kitchen, are back onscreen! They return in Crystal’s chill new skating dramedy series Betty as series consultants and performers. They’ll be playing somewhat different versions of the original film characters (who are based on the women themselves, but have different names).
“The idea was that we were just going to move forward straight from the movie. But in the writers’ room, things shifted and changed and we ended up doing an origin story of how a group of girls came together,” says Crystal. “I just continued to write notes about funny things that the girls would say and the situations that would happen between them. I loved collaborating with them and they were a part of the process, so it kind of just fell into line perfectly.”
Betty, a 6-episode gem of a series, is all about Gen-Z friendship, love, romantic awkwardness and carving out a space for yourself in the world, wheels first. While it has a comic tone and a joyful lightness and freedom that comes from having the camera “ride along” with the characters on their boards, it also tackles social issues about race, class, sexuality and all the nuances of sexism and entitlement. Thanks to the skaters’ collaboration, the topics come and go naturally based on what is happening in their world, from their point of view rather than being spotlighted as a kind of moral lesson of the week.
“I think it was important for me to capture these conversations that you normally don't hear on television, what women talk about, and maybe what you're not expecting. My approach to them and their world is just letting them be themselves. They're intelligent girls. They understand the framework of the scene. They can really work with parameters, and they'll add stuff that is nuanced and specific to that moment,” reveals Crystal.
Being a Betty
A Betty is how skater boys refer to the girls on the scene because yet again, this is a public space and activity where men have defined themselves as the norm and women as outsiders whose presence needs to always be justified. “A Surf Betty or a Skate Betty started off as a girl who actually skates or surfs, and then it kind of turned into a girl that just hangs out and is one of the less derogatory terms that’s been used for that. Our idea was to really reclaim that idea,” explains Crystal.
Part of the way that Betty does that is by showing the skaters’ sheer enjoyment as they zip about the streets filming one another, learning new skills and teaching their friends. It’s the scene, seen from inside. “We had a skate cinematographer who would skate alongside them on a skateboard. We wanted to reference skate videos and the way to really feel like you are cruising through the city with the girls and with them. I wanted it to feel like we're actually in their world hanging out with them, not observing,” says Crystal.
Their friendship and their sport come first and as long as they have each other to affirm the experience, they mostly don’t need to play the “prove yourself” game that some guys want them to play. “They're dealing with intimidation. They're pushing through and making space for women. And that's a big thing! We wanted to show women making space for other women. It's not about being the only girl. It's about I'm going to make space for other women to be here as well,” explains Crystal. But that’s a lesson that some of them are still learning this season…