TV Critic Sarah Mawson urges you to watch ‘Betty’, a coming-of-age comedy which details female skateboarders making their way in a male-dominated sport
In 2018 Crystal Moselle overheard two young women on the subway in New York City talking and discovered they were members of the Skate Kitchen: a group of young (predominantly female) skateboarders based in New York City. Moselle was inspired by this interaction to create Skate Kitchen, a film starring members of the actual collective and revolving around fictionalised versions of their lives.
Now, two years later, Moselle and the cast of Skate Kitchen are back with Betty, a mini-series revolving around the lives of the same characters. It is not a continuation, the plotlines have started afresh, but the characters are almost identical, the organic feeling is as present as it was in the film. Though the series is short (six episodes at about 25 minutes each) this extended runtime allows for a wider spread of themes to be addressed than the film allowed.
While the primary topics of romance, family life, and what it’s like to be a woman in male-dominated spaces, the series also dips into race, drugs, LGBTQ+ issues, and more aspects of womanhood than you can count. The beauty of the way Moselle and the skaters explore these topics is in their subtlety – nothing is hit over the head, everything arises the way it does in regular life. Much of the dialogue shown seems candid, as if the cameras were left rolling and Moselle knew the conversations, about everything from skate-related insecurities to a discussion about the preferred term for vagina, would be the most accurate way to depict the lives of these women.
The majority of Betty‘s comedy comes from Nina Moran’s character, Kirt, as she (in the series’ memorable opening shot) takes pictures of comically-placed bruises and flirts with everything that moves only to decline sex in favour of complaining about a recent argument with her friends. She is possibly the most problematic of the characters, getting disproportionately angry at small things and not seeing the error of her ways. Thus, making her a prime example of the complexity with which these characters are treated, just as regular non-fiction people are too.
Part of the reason behind the realism of the characters is due to a great deal of their personalities being based off of the actors themselves. Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams plays Honeybear in Betty, portraying her as an awkward, camera-toting person who likes to set herself year-long challenges such as vegetarianism or staying off Instagram, all of which also apply to the real Moonbear. The storylines of the characters is the only area in which Betty falls short – as it makes a couple of questionable choices when it comes to prioritising certain plots over others. For example, ignoring Honeybear’s mysterious homelife after one scene. Instead, devoting what feels like a gratuitous amount of time to following Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) and her love interest.
Between scenes documenting the women and their relationships, Moselle and Jackson Hunt (cinematographer for Betty) combine filming the beauty of New York City with the art of shooting skateboarding in a way that makes it unsurprising that the sport is re-emerging as a symbol for youthful freedom. The tracking shots of the girls on their boards make it look like they’re floating on air, unburdened by any of the worries or fears regular life contains. In one particular scene in the final episode, a giant group of skateboarders are shown gliding across one of the city’s bridges as part of an all-girl skate session. Not only is it shot beautifully but it epitomises the message of the series: the sense of community skateboarding brings, especially between women. It’s heart-warming and makes it far too tempting for viewers to take it up themselves, the risk of a broken arm or ankle seeming inconsequential.
From Lords of Dogtown to Betty and Mid90s, there is no doubt that skateboarding will continue to feature on our screens for years to come, not just because it looks undeniably cool, but as it has proven itself to be the perfect vehicle for stories about friends, family, love, and anything else that comes with the territory of growing up.
Betty is available to watch on Amazon Video.