Like Skate Kitchen before it, HBO’s Betty is a celebration of a girl skating community in New York City. Director Crystal Moselle, who first shot a short film about the ‘Skate Kitchen’ crew before expanding it into a feature film that played Sundance, is clearly fascinated with these group of girls. As the collaboration has spanned years, her protagonists have grown into their own. Rachelle Vinberg, for instance, who played Camille in Skate Kitchen and reprises a version of that same character in Betty, has seen firsthand how Moselle has taken aspects of her own life to create the stories that run through this kinetic ode to skate culture.
For Skate Kitchen, for instance, as Vinberg had told Remezcla back when the film first opened in 2018, Moselle modeled Camille’s mother on Vinberg’s own Colombian mother. As played by One Day at a Time‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez, Camille’s mom on the film helped frame the young skater’s story as one of rebellion against the ideals of femininity she faced at home. Betty may not put Camille’s own Colombian background so front and center, but there’s no missing the moments when Camille’s Spanish comes in handy, like when she has to confront a thief who took her backpack. “Tu vete a la mierda!” she yells at him when he curses Camille and her friends out. “Dame la mochila ahora!”
Speaking with Remezcla ahead of the Betty premiere, Vinberg remembered that while the scene may feel all too improbable, it actually happened to her. “Yeah. Back in 2017. At that same location in that weird mall — everything was the same, for the most part.” Such conflations of real life and fiction make it hard for Vinberg to really disentangle how much Skate Kitchen and now Betty function as biographical. “I think that in all of us is the personality. Like these characters live in the same world that we actually live in.” And while she admits it’s hard for her to answer the question of where Camille ends and Rachelle begins, she acknowledges that, like the rest of the Skate Kitchen crew, she’s playing a version of herself that’s already a few years past. Moselle may take inspiration from all their lives but they’ve already grown out of it by the time they find themselves playing it for the screen.
Camille, who in the show’s pilot finds herself meeting these other skater girls for the first time, is the one outlier in the story. “Camille is not a bad person,” Vinberg clarifies. “She has her priorities a bit off. She’s super into that idea of being cool and being friends with really cool skaters who make cool videos and get a lot of attention. She thinks that’s what she needs in her life. Those girls, when she meets them, she doesn’t know how to feel about them.” Of course, through the show’s first season we see that bond get tighter even as they all go through their own different struggles — everything from dating to coming out.
But if there is one thing Vinberg hopes Betty does is further opening up skating culture to girls everywhere. “I don’t know if people see this side of skating a lot. Especially older people or even younger girls and younger boys. I feel like when you think skateboarding, you think punk and hard core and falling and that kind of thing. But there’s also a really kind of feminine and artistic side to it. And casualness. That’s what we do.”
What helps is that the show doesn’t try to come up with any one way of being a skater girl. As Vinberg puts its, “The thing about Betty is that we’re all very different but we’re all girls so it’s like there’s not just one way of being a skater girl.” And while she knows it may still be a while until she and her friends can head out onto the streets again to do tricks and bond, she hopes Betty will keep moving the needle forward so that everyone feels welcomed into the world of skating.
Betty premieres May 1, 2020 11:00-11:30 p.m. on HBO