‘Betty’ Creator and Director Crystal Moselle on Season 2 and Her Evolving Relationship With Skate Kitchen
It’s been five years since filmmaker Crystal Moselle first spotted the all-girl skateboarding crew Skate Kitchen on an NYC subway. Since then Moselle and Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Dede Lovelace, Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams and Ajani Russell have collaborated on one short film, one feature, and now two seasons of “Betty,” Moselle’s fictional HBO series inspired by the women’s real lives. Now, a year after a global pandemic and protests have impacted the world, particularly New York, Moselle and the crew have returned for a second season. Season two picks up with the women turning their attentions to sex, community, and creative ways to get by in the gig economy.
Moselle recently took the time to chat with Entertainment Voice via Zoom, opening up about her journey in making “Betty” season two, finding inspiration in real people, creating sexier storylines and the responsibility that comes with that, and how her own life inspired a timely relationship subplot.
You first met Rachelle, Nina, Dede, Ajani and Moonbear in 2016. How has your relationship with them evolved since then?
It’s just been a growth. We’ve all been on this wild journey together as the project grows and moves into new directions. It’s nothing we ever expected in the first place. At first, I had wanted to make a documentary with them. I hadn’t shot a fiction film. I’ve done several commercials and lots of documentary work, but that has been my first time working with actors. I’d say they were first-timers. I love that term, “first-timers.”
It’s been a really cool process. All of us are getting better at our craft and becoming kind of experts in this world that we’ve created together.
So much has changed since even last season. Tell us about how you decided to write the pandemic into this season. Not every show that has returned has addressed it.
For me, realism is the place that I want to create work in, even if there is a little bit of magic that goes along with it. Every time we make something, it’s all inspired by where we are right now, so it made the most sense to place it in that place.
Rachelle co-wrote an episode with you this season. Tell us about that experience, collaborating with her.
Rachelle and I have been collaborating since day one on this project. For the short film, her and I really came up with the idea together. It was just the natural progression. She’s in film [school] for screenwriting. She’s written several screenplays. She’s very talented, so I wanted to bring her in on the process.
We see the women become more entrepreneurial this year, especially Indigo. Talk about the money-making ventures portrayed here and why you decided to give them those gigs.
After “That One Day,” the short film we did for Miu Miu, came out, the girls got a lot of attention. The influencer world is hitting hard, and I just see so many people trying to take advantage of them and giving them bad deals. I wanted to show that side, and show it from the other point of view and the reality of it. With the sugar baby thing, there are a lot of young women sugar babying for money these days, so I wanted to show that side of that as well.
The show tackles some subjects pertaining to female sexuality that have been considered taboo in the past. We see Moonbear and her girlfriend experiment, and there’s a memorable scene in which a group of women talk about what kind of porn they enjoy. Tell us about how those scenes came about and if you received any pushback.
Pushback from HBO? (Laughs).
I didn’t think so, but I had to ask.
I always say it’s not sexy enough for HBO sometimes. After season one, for season two, I was taking notes, and I was like, “What does season two need to be?” I was like, “It needs to be sexier. These girls are growing up.” A big part of growing up is being open to your sexuality. I just wanted to bring that in.
We didn’t get any pushback, but I think a big part of bringing sex into your art [is responsibility]. An intimacy coordinator is so helpful and necessary these days. I think that’s a big part of making everyone feel comfortable, including me. It’s uncomfortable for me to direct scenes like that with these young women I’ve been working with for many years. It really helped. Alicia [Rodis] is our intimacy coordinator. [That position] actually didn’t exist a few years ago. It’s a new thing… It’s not required, but it’s very important. I think a lot of people felt taken advantage of in the past, and you just want to make sure everyone feels comfortable with what you’re doing.
Last season, Janay confronted her abusive ex, a guy who was outwardly charming but really a creep, and this season, she met Sylvester, who didn’t make a great first impression, but is really a good guy, although his being overly cautious when it comes to consent was a mood killer for her. Talk about creating that character and relationship.
I had an experience with somebody whom I was dating who was incredibly respectful in a way that was really sweet, but there were a few moments where they were like, “Can I touch your arm?” I was like, “Wow, this is hilarious.” Times have changed, because I remember in my youth, always feeling like you had to say, “No, hold on. Hold on.” There was a lot of pushing from men’s sides. They would push you to go further than what you felt comfortable with.
I think that men are starting to be educated about this. Though that, I think they’re having to be extra careful, so we thought that that would be a really great moment to kind of show that side of things, kind of make fun of it, but also be like, “Hey, man, this is real.” You have to have ultimate respect for the person whom you’re with, man or woman.
Relating to that, Kirt has a great storyline this year educating men about how to treat women. How did that come about? Is that from Nina’s own life?
Nina does have her kind of crew of guys I’ve seen her [with], this group of young boys who really look up to her, but it was mainly inspired by season one when she was teaching the boys in the park. I was like, “Wow, that’s a really great moment. Let’s lean into this and expand and see where we can go with this.”
The community grows this year after they open the new indoor skate spot/community center. After this past year, people are realizing more than ever how important community is. Was that always your intention, or did the pandemic inspire that storyline?
I wanted season two to really be focused on men and women coming together for the greater good, because one thing that is the truth is that all these skaters skate together. They’re very much like a crew. As they come into the world, women might be more welcoming, but once they’re in, they all hang out with each other. So we thought that it would be really [important] to show the truth, to make the storyline about how they would come together. What is something that would bring them together?
Real-life chef Roblé Ali plays an important role this season as a small business owner who is hit hard by the pandemic. Talk about working with him, another real person playing a version of himself.
Roblé is Dede’s uncle. He’s not her blood uncle. Her dad has all these friends whom she calls her uncles because they look after her and have her back. During the pandemic, she was hanging out at his house a lot, and he lived down the street from me, so they were kind of in a little pod for a minute, and I would hang out with them. He would cook, and he’s mad cool. I just got inspired by that. I get inspired by real people all the time.
Do you have any projects coming out that you can talk about?
I just finished a script that I’m hoping to shoot this year about my father’s time working at a mental hospital in the seventies.
“Betty” season two premieres June 11 and airs Fridays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.