After the ATX Television Festival shared a very generous preview of the forthcoming P-Valley, show creator Katori Hall and actors Brandee Evans, Nicco Annan and Elarica Johnson hopped on for a virtual Q&A to talk about the Starz drama and the stigma often attached to the women who make a living by dancing at a strip club.
Based on Hall’s play Pussy Valley, P-Valley is set in the Mississippi Delta and follows the lives of the complex characters who work at a small strip club. There’s Mercedes (Evans), who is the club’s star; the disruptor Autumn (Johnson) and the mother in charge of it all Uncle Clifford (Annan). For Hall, who also serves as showrunner, the story hits close to home for her as she is from the south and is part of southern culture.
During the panel, she said that when she would walk into these clubs she admired their skill and athleticism which gave a feeling of empowerment. Fast-forward years later and she took a pole dancing class which is how she connected with the women in the culture. This was the catalyst for P-Valley. She went on to research and talked to women who were in the industry and their experiences. “I wanted to create a story an actual story platform beyond the stage they grace…so people could understand,” she said. “Their story deserves to be heard.”
Evans, who is a trained professional dancer, admits that she was not a fan of the strip club world before signing on to P-Valley, but since stepping into the role of Mercedes, she has had a change of heart. “But now I will fight anyone who talks [bad] about a stripper,” laughs Evans. “No matter what happens in my life I’m always going to do pole [dancing].”
“Pole dancing is something that I have never done before, said Johnson. “You look at it, and it looks kind of easy…and the first day, I couldn’t lift myself up!”
She continues, “It’s a hard, hard sport — and these women work so hard.”
Evans, who is a preacher’s daughter, she said she was afraid of what people were going to think of her playing a stripper because of the stigma. She admits that she was ignorant to what the world was. When she talked to her dad, he encouraged her to give it her all. “I’ve never been more empowered and more confident in my body,” she said.
“At the end of the day, every person deserves their story to be told,” said Hall. “There is this long history of hypersexualized images of black women — these women exist but they are very nuanced, complicated.” She adds that this series is in service of those who are marginalized and made to feel ashamed and dehumanized. “They have a space for their voices to shine. Right now is the perfect time for this show because we have an America that is screaming to be heard…what’s so beautiful about the show is that all kinds of people are represented.”
This includes Annan’s Uncle Clifford, a character he has been working with for 10 years since the play. “I’ve gotten to know her intimately,” he said. “Uncle Clifford is a non-binary queer black male who identifies with the pronoun of she. Just the conception of all of that it could be a lot, but it can be very simple. It speaks to the possibility to embrace all who you are — your masculinity and your femininity.”
For the series, Hall used a team of female directors for each episode. She said that they had many conversations as to what a female gaze of a series about strippers. She said we often see explicit “boobs and booty” when it comes to the portrayal of strip clubs on TV. With a female gaze of a strip club show, Hall says we get to know the women. “It’s told from their perspective — we see the world through their lives,” she said. “And quite frankly, they’re not always talking about men!” She said the female gaze doesn’t spend time lingering on the body, but appreciating, and embracing the body. “She ain’t gotta be perfect,” she said. “We want to see the scars…it’s really about celebrating that diversity and the camera was in service of that.”