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HBO's 'Betty' Highlights The Lives Of Women Skateboarders During The Pandemic


Crystal Moselle's "Betty" has begun its second season on HBO. Young women skateboarders during the pandemic soaring through almost-empty New York streets, searching for romance and chakras, bending genders and so-called rules, making themselves strong in their own tribe.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) I've got a message, message for you. Oompa Loompa doompadah (ph) dee (ph)...

SIMON: The series stars real-life skateboarders, including Dede Lovelace, Kabrina Adams and Rachelle Vinberg. It's taken from the real-life feature-length "Skate Kitchen," also directed by Crystal Moselle, who joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: This season certainly seems to open set during the pandemic last fall.

MOSELLE: Yeah. It is.

SIMON: I got to say, the streets seem empty. And the skating becomes lyrical, doesn't it?

MOSELLE: Yeah. The city is its own character with this project. It always has been. It was something that when I first met the girls - the way they interact with the city is so beautiful. And it's like its own art piece. When they're skating, it feels to me like a dance film.

SIMON: Yeah.

MOSELLE: So the city, like, when, you know, last summer, it's like - there was such an interesting energy happening. And it was, you know, completely tragic but also felt very freeing. And it felt like there was no rules and that we wanted to bring that energy into season two.

SIMON: No rules, but masks.

MOSELLE: Yes. Still - there's a responsibility that we all had, you know, that there's, like, all these, like, outdoor dance parties where everybody's still being socially responsible with distancing. But they're still, like, letting their spirits rise, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. This is a series unlike any other. But there does seem to be - it does seem to touch on a classic theme, which is that adults just don't understand children.

MOSELLE: (Laughter) It's true.

SIMON: (Laughter) Makes it very clear - opens with a character, by the way, who is proud of working at, like, a convenience store. But her mother snaps at her, I did not pay for Brierly, which is a tony private school. I did not pay for Brierly so that you could be putting Snapples into fridges. You're better than this. What is she missing about her daughter?

MOSELLE: I mean, her daughter is trying. Her daughter's doing something that is, you know, something that she's proud of, that she's making something for herself. She might not be doing what her mother wants her to do. But she's doing what feels good in her own heart.

SIMON: There're scenes set in a - what I'm sure is an inauthentic reference on my part - looks like it's a skateboarders' clubhouse, which we discover is living on borrowed time. What's going on there?

MOSELLE: Well, skateboarding helps with their mental health. Like, there's something that - you know, it's like exercise or whatever. So in the wintertime when they don't have anywhere to skate, it's difficult. So they're always trying to find places, like, indoors. And because real estate in New York is so expensive, it's hard to find a place that they can all skateboard. And so for season two, it's really about, you know, within the atmosphere of COVID and everything is happening in the world, maybe there's some sort of freedom in squatting a place, maybe.

SIMON: Yeah.

MOSELLE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. Help us understand the difficult road that young women skateboarders have.

MOSELLE: Well, I mean, first of all, skateboarding for so long has been set up as a male sport. So even just, like, going to the store to set up a board is intimidating. It's a lot of intimidation. So if you want to do it, the resources to get there has been far and few. Things have obviously changed so much. There's, like, you know, full shops run by women for women. And, you know, just in, like, the last few years, it's been a new story for it.

But in the past, it's just a lot of intimidation and thinking that, you know, it's something that you're not supposed to do. And then you try to do it. And, you know, you get to the park. And there's a lot of eyes on you 'cause you're the only woman there. And maybe it's not necessarily, like, a judgment thing. It's just - it's different. It's new. It's different. You want to see how good this girl is, you know? For women, it's been hard. But having somebody by your side, a friend to bring with you to the park is the one thing that can change things, the one thing that can give you enough courage to step across those lines.

SIMON: Yeah. We've got a clip we want to play of a couple of the skateboarders who are inevitably thrown into the company of boys. And Kirt says this to a couple of the young men who were not what we would call old-style gentlemen.


NINA MORAN: (As Kirt) Nobody wants to be your friend, bro. You know what you two sound like? - like a couple of dudes who used to be hella ugly and never learned how to speak to women.

SIMON: Oh, that puts them in their place, doesn't it?

SIMON: Yeah. Kirt has a really fun storyline this season.

SIMON: Help us understand, too, that title, "Betty," because it, in many ways, relates to the whole theme of the stories you're telling.

MOSELLE: I mean, "Betty" was originally a term that was used for girls that hang out with skateboarders or surfers. Generally, is - it's - it actually has turned more of a derogatory theme, term, whatever. But we wanted to bring it back and change the meaning and, you know, make it something that we can feel proud about.

SIMON: You're left with the sense that for these young women, skateboarding isn't what we would call a sport. It's a way of life. It's a tribe.

MOSELLE: It's a way of life. It's an art piece, a way of expression, like, something to feel proud of.

SIMON: Crystal Moselle, how do you think the young skateboarders who are telling stories as actors now based on their stories - as actors, and to be sure, of course, they're still skateboarding - how do you think this whole process of having their stories told, telling them in a different way, representing a community in a series - how do you think it's changing their lives and how they see themselves?

MOSELLE: When I first met them, none of them were actors. And I think Rachelle had thought about it before. But, you know, she lived in Long Island. She didn't really know, like, how to do it. So it's given them a lot of, you know, opportunities, I think.

But more than that, I think what it's done is - so many other women have seen these girls and what they've done and how they've showed up for skateboarding. It's inspiring other people. So for anything, it's like they've become role models. You don't have to aspire to be them. I mean, you can just pick up a board and be them right away and feel like you belong to something.

SIMON: Crystal Moselle. Her series, "Betty," now in its second season on HBO. Thank you so much for being with us.

MOSELLE: Of course.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASKA MATSUMIYA'S "WHY NOT BAMBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.