“Skateboarding is not about landing tricks all the time, that’s why girls are so intimidated, they think that’s what they need to do, but it’s just about having fun, doesn’t matter how many tricks you have”
There is an ocean of cars driving down the avenue, yellow cabs and grey SUVs fighting for the perfect space to speed down the chosen lane until the traffic light turns red out of the blue, tracing long black marks on the concrete and releasing clouds of burnt rubber. This chaos isn’t stopping Kirt from cruising down that same avenue on a plank of wood the length of her arm, vulnerable amongst the steel giants. Or are vulnerability, danger, recklessness, the perfect way to feel powerful? The pride on her face as she snaps a shot of the large colourful bruise on her bum, in the middle of the street, suggests so.
HBO’s Betty is the story of how a group of New York teenage girls fought to be seen in the city’s skateboarding scene, unfairly ruled by boys who clearly have no intention of letting them take over. Director Crystal Moselle bumped into the actresses and real life skaters in 2015 on the subway, sparking the beginning of a mesmerising collaboration that started with a short fashion film commissioned by Miu Miu, That One Day, before carrying on with the fictionalised documentary Skate Kitchen, named after the girls’ skating group, and is now being explored through the spin-off series, Betty. The name comes from a derogatory term used in the 90s to describe a girl hanging out at a skatepark, dressing as a skater but who “doesn’t actually do anything but watch and giggle”, according to Urban Dictionary. “The term Betty has gone through all these different transformations (…) so now we’re reclaiming it and making it our own” explains Moselle of her striking title.
But beyond the aesthetic skateboard documentary, Betty is a poignant and incredibly accurate representation of what it’s like to be a girl in a city like New York. What it means to explore your sexuality, to dodge sexual assault without risking worse, to have to prove your worth as a skater when you’re a black queer girl surrounded by white boys. Every shot, from a high Indigo stroking the lights above her head to the panic on Camille’s face when she realises her backpack has been stolen, shows that Crystal Moselle has a perfect understanding of her audience and her characters.
In Kirt’s stoned yet wise words, “skateboarding is not about landing tricks all the time, that’s why girls are so intimidated, they think that’s what they need to do, but it’s just about having fun, doesn’t matter how many tricks you have”. If those words resonate with you, tune in every Friday night to watch Betty on HBO and practise your ollies every other day!
Watch the trailer below:
Cover illustration by Alice Bishop