The ups & downs (and skating through vomit) of HBO’s Betty
If your earliest, most beloved memories of skateboarding entail swirling in-and-out of bowls at the skatepark without a helmet or your knees covered, and the square button aggressively tapped over and over on your game console as you try to balance the meter so your shredding across the ramp can end thoroughly successful — then, no worries.
There’s still plenty of time to go ‘out’ and truly learn.
Perhaps take a few notes of instruction from the cross-country scattered group of Skate Kitchen, the energetic project of girls and their very real skateboards determined to add the ‘wo’ into the predominantly ‘men’s’ fueled culture of skateboarding. With over a hundred and twelve thousand followers on Instagram to boast videos of their shreds or different versions of their logo of three bananas (whether it be in the form of a tattoo or an inflatable pool toy) or even upcoming skating events that range from themes like Girl & Queer Skate Sesh to Anti Prom III — Skate Kitchen is here to reimage the cooler version of your teens, had you actually gone out and skated.
Garnering enough attention to be the center of the eponymous Magnolia Pictures film back in 2018, the gang is back for another round this time in episodic form, with the arrival of new show Betty. Ahead of its release, we ‘rolled’ with four of the leads over the course of two afternoons, starting from the first days of SK to the ones that have yet to even be seen.
Skate Kitchen has been the center of a short film, movie, and now TV show — but what’s next for you guys? Let’s make this a quadrilogy.
Rachelle Vinberg [portrays Camille]: Uhm, well, I feel like a lot that happened just kind of happened, and we didn’t necessarily plan it. I feel like just riding the wave and seeing how things go is what’s been working for Skate Kitchen stuff. But we’ll see, I don’t know.
Ajani Russell [portrays Indigo]: We’re all artists on our own, like different types of artists. I’m a visual artist, Dede is also a visual artist… So, I guess all of us are trying to find a way to incorporate our craft and our artistic mediums into skateboarding — which you have to be really creative about during quarantine, and like, communicating with each other than you’re normally used to.
Moonbear [portrays Honeybear]: We were working on releasing something for Skate Kitchen, but we decided to take a step back from that.
Dede Lovelace [portrays Janay]: [Laughs] I don’t think we have any like television production plans after this, but uh, I think we’ve just been focused on really building the community of Skate Kitchen and the platform of that on our own. Of like, us girls taking the initiative into our hands and putting it there, and just pushing Skate Kitchen and passing it forward and showing that it’s much bigger than just a few girls that were the starters of it, I guess.
If you need any ideas, a skateboarding video game is still on the table…
Dede: That’s one, yeah. We haven’t thought about that because we’ve been trying to get some clothes out ‘cause people are always like, ‘Oh, do you guys make t-shirts or something?’ Because we made t-shirts before, but they weren’t the greatest.
Ajani: I’ve drawn characters for it before. But we’re still making videos and skating and organizing girls seshes for when we can go outside again.
After Skate Kitchen the movie came out, what made you guys want to sign up to do the TV show?
Dede: It was kind of like… hm, how can I put it? We stepped into this world of you know, TV, and it just kind of blossomed into something beyond what any one of us could’ve ever imagined. And for me personally, I was still trying to figure out what I was tryna do after [the movie], and then Crystal said HBO was interested in making it into a show, and I never thought that would be something that would’ve… happened?
Moonbear: We’d been talking about it, and then once it became a thing it was just like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’
Ajani: It wasn’t like I signed up for it; it was more like we as a group were just growing so much and bonding through the experiences we were having. I love working with Crystal [Moselle, the director] and I think the story was really important to share and to be given the platform to do so is just a really amazing opportunity for us.
Rachelle: It was just really cool HBO even wanted to make a show, like it was random, and we were just like ‘What?’ because it was an independent film and it was pretty small; not too many people saw it.
How reflective would you say the show is reflective of each of your lives?
Moonbear: I’d say it’s like a younger version of me, but there are some things that aren’t me — like the religion part.
Dede: It’s about 40 to 70 percent. 40 percent of it is real because a lot of the people in the show are our friends and some of the cast dynamics are based off of real-life events; but then I wanna say seventy because, you know, there has to be a storyline that would carry the narrative of each character.
Ajani: It’s not necessarily accurate to our individual lives, but the types of situations the girls are in and you know, how we would react to those situations in certain stances are closer to reality than a few little stories.
Rachelle: It’s the same world, like it’s the same places we go… But looking back, it just feels like a normal summer. Like I don’t have a memory of, ‘Oh that’s filming’ or ‘Oh that’s separate’. Like it kind of all feels related to all the summers I’ve had.
Do you like the fictionalized character of yourself that you play?
Rachelle: I do, yeah.
Ajani: She’s a fun character. She’s interesting and has similar interests to myself.
Moonbear: Yeah, I find it pretty easy to play Honeybear because Honeybear is a bit like myself, Moonbear. So, it was easier to play Honeybear than like if I played a totally different character who is no resemblance to my person.
Dede: Janay started off, in the movie, and she was very very very similar to me. So, for the show, it still needed to be the same kind of thing, but I wanted to make sure that I was pushing her away a little bit in certain ways you know, so I could have something to differentiate between me and her. We’re alike but then we’re not, but I do like playing her.
When you guys mess up doing a trick — is that real, or are you specifically told to fall down?
Rachelle: Oh, totally. Totally real. Half of the time, when we’re filming skate stuff. It’s actually probably the most stressful part because we want to land stuff and look good, but also, we don’t want to fall and get hurt. So, all the falls are real falls and there’s no faking it. Like, it’s probably harder to like actually land it.
Dede: In the movie when I got hurt, that was the only time they were like ‘Mess up!’ [laughs]. But other than that, no.
Were knee pads ever a thing at the start of your skate lives?
Moonbear: For me, I was twelve and so I got the helmet and the pads and the wrist pads and the elbow pads — but it depended on where I was skating. If I went to the skatepark I wore everything, but if I was in front of my house I didn’t.
Ajani: No, I didn’t have any knee pads or protective gear and I still don’t.
Rachelle: I never used knee pads. A lot of times people who skate — Nina [Moran] is good for that — wear knee pads because the way you fall is you slide. But I never skated like that. I mean I probably should, but I don’t know.
Dede: Knee pads were always a thing, and they’re still a thing. Do I wear them? No. I should… But I kind of just went for it.
There’s a scene involving one of you rolling through dog shit towards the beginning of the series… But what’s the worst thing you’ve all ever rolled through?
Rachelle: Probably like, throw up. I’ve definitely rolled through throw up before. Or sometimes in Chinatown, they’ll have like the excess on the ground and I’ve definitely rolled through that… Or just like trash in the city. Or old rainwater that’s like green, you know?
Ajani and Dede: A dead rat.
Moonbear: It would have to be a stoprock. They’re like little pebbles in the street that like, most people aren’t bothered by — but if you’re on a skateboard, the wheels on it are like a bicycle wheel. So, when you hit it your skateboard will stop but you know, science and all that gravity — I don’t know what the term is — but if you don’t catch yourself, you’ll keep going and fly off the board.
If more seasons are filmed, will Jaden Smith be reprising his role later down the line, or is Tony Hawk taking up his place as ex-love interest?
Ajani: [her voice dips into one of a fortune teller’s] Ooo, I can’t say.
Dede: I guess you’re gonna have to seeeee.
Rachelle: I don’t think so. I don’t know, that’s a question for Crystal.
My last question for you all. This show tackles harassment, police brutality, and even touches upon femininity and the body hair movement… but what’d you each hope you’ll be able to address within coming seasons?
Rachelle: I think it addresses it but just to make it more clear, the idea of being your authentic self and figuring that out and sticking with it. This is the age group where you’re figuring yourself out so hopefully, it can focus more on finding yourself and not worrying about how it looks or if it makes you look cool.
Ajani: I wanna talk about more parent-child relationships and just the whole mean girl idea. And social media and the ways humans communicate now are really important. Definitely more racial conversations and economics and business — cause Moonbear in real life, is like, really business-oriented. And she’s really good at it too! And just placing young black girls in these roles we don’t usually see them in, and we don’t have any representation or role models.
Moonbear: I think as things grow more into the light, you’ll see like what person has a story that makes it in there very originally instead of just forced and bringing up an issue just because it’s trending or whatever. If we can fit it in there organically, then we’ll probably get it in with whatever the issue could be.