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Skateboarding teaches you how to heal from a fall

Women skateboarders are at the centre of HBO's Betty, which shows how unsettling and inescapable misogynistic violence is, even in seemingly safe spaces
Thu, Nov 11, 2021

I'll be the first one to say it: I am a liker of things and, as someone who stands at the intersection of several marginalised identities, liking things tends to make my life… difficult.

Granted, I might have been an insufferable teenager battling a particularly sad case of I-am-not-like-other-girls syndrome. The first time I expressed an interest in skateboarding I was met with rolled eyes and matter-of-fact statements like, "Black girls don't skateboard".

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I gave it a good go for about two weeks, but it's difficult to focus on not falling on your ass when everyone around you is so hellbent on regulating the limits of what you can and cannot do simply because you're black and non-male.

God, I really hate misogynoir.

During lockdown, in the wake of Covid-19's first disruptive wave, we were encouraged by several news outlets to take up new interests for our mental health and self-care.

In an effort to show up for my 16-year-old self and do what she couldn't, I decided to try my hand at skateboarding again – and at the centre of this renewed interest was HBO's Betty.

A spinoff of Crystal Moselle's 2018 film Skate Kitchen and retaining most of its core cast of non-professional actors, Betty, alongside reclaiming the pejorative term "skate Betty" (used to describe young girls and women who hang around skate parks), charmingly follows a group of diverse young women as they navigate the male-dominated New York skate scene.

There's Kirt (Nina Moran), the unfiltered free-spirit of the group who often acts as a mouthpiece for some of the show's more slogan-y white feminist moments.

There's Honeybear (Kabrina Moonbear Adams), a shy filmmaker and body positivity activist reckoning with her queerness. There's Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a seasoned skater concerned with acquiring the respect and recognition of her male colleagues. There's Indigo (Ajani Russell), the blonde-eyebrowed weed dealer and baby skater of the group. And lastly, there's Janay (Dede Lovelace), the strong-willed nucleus of the collective determined to see more girls at the skate park.

Space is one of the show's major themes and even though much of the six-episode long season 1 focuses on establishing the individual characters and their interpersonal relationships. There's a pivotal #MeToo storyline that Betty uses to highlight how, even in our perceived safe spaces, the threat of misogynistic violence is always looming.

When Janay finds out that her best friend, YouTube show co-host and ex-boyfriend Donald (Caleb Eberhardt) has been accused of sexually assaulting fellow skater Yvette (Jules Lorenzo), her eruptive response to the news takes her through an array of conflicting emotions that see her finally breaking down and revealing to Indigo and Honeybear that she too had been sexually assaulted by Donald.

"She's telling the truth… because he did the same thing to me," she says.

While incredibly heartbreaking, Janay's unravelling sheds light on the many misconceptions we have about what sexual assault is and who perpetrators are. What is additionally striking is that Betty consistently reiterates how crucial it is to cultivate pockets of support and community in spaces like the skateboarding scene which are overwhelmingly male, specifically because of situations like Janay and Yvette's.

The show's second season, however, attempts to tackle the various ways the global pandemic has affected the group of friends. Weaving in subplots about homelessness, sex work, polyamory and yet again, creating safe spaces to skate – the episodes feel sloppy at times.

Where season 1 felt like it had a point and something important to say, the second just awkwardly meanders. I suspect that this could be due to our collective inability to properly incorporate the pandemic into our narratives.

Sadly, the show won't have a chance to redeem itself and address some of these concerns as it will not be returning for a third season. Still, what makes Betty unforgettable and impactful is its commitment to faithfully depicting the realities of a group of women who, despite being undermined and overlooked, remain resilient, throwing themselves completely into their shared love for skateboarding and each other. It's all quite inspiring.

As I skate by myself every now and then, my 30-year-old bones heavily protected behind shin guards, knee and elbow pads, I think back to the show's beautiful slow-motion montages of dozens of women and queer people skating down the streets of NYC and wonder what it would be like if I had my own band of Betties.

  • Betty is available to stream on Showmax