Hollywood considered Black strip clubs 'taboo.' Then came 'P-Valley'

Ashley Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

If you're wondering what the 'P' in 'P-Valley' stands for, look no further than the title of Katori Hall's 2015 play: "Pussy Valley." Starz urged the playwright-turned-showrunner to abbreviate the name of her new series, which debuts Sunday -- though not, Hall said, because the network itself was squeamish.

"We were gonna go for it, but when conversations started happening between the network and the cable carriers, they were basically saying they were not going to list the show if it was in the title," she explained. "So it was actually censorship on the part of the carrier, not the network.

"Starz made a business decision: 'We don't want to make a great show and not have people see it because people are afraid of this word,'" she continued. "But that's just a reflection of where we are as a culture about anything that is connected to women and the female body. Sure, it's not the most elegant of words, but it's raw and it's real."

The same can be said of "P-Valley," which, though titillating, presents the stars of strip clubs in all their athletic, artistic glory. These are not the seedy spots of Los Angeles' industrial districts; these are the communal hot spots of the South, where scantily clad acrobats -- queen bee Mercedes (Brandee Evans), cherubic Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton) and newcomer Autumn (Elarica Johnson) -- defy societal norms and gravity in a single stunt. The poles at the Pynk are their pulpits; the Mississippi crowds' showers of money are valuable applause.

Hall talked to The Times about carefully capturing these women's artistry, giving thanks to Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez and finding the answer to the series in the most important meal of the day. The following has been edited for clarity and condensed.

The Pynk is unlike any strip club I've ever seen on screen.


I think what a lot of people don't know about Black Southern strip clubs specifically is that it's not taboo. It's the thing to do. I'm a Memphis native, so being from the South, I frequented strip clubs all the time. You celebrate bachelorette and bachelor parties there. I've even been to a baby shower at a strip club! It's truly a central hub where you can cross paths with friends and politicians and rappers, and it's very much part of the fabric of social activity down South.

I was always so enthralled by what I saw, because it goes beyond just women taking the clothes off. The women who are up on those stages, they were putting forth a theatrical experience. I felt like I was at Cirque du Soleil. They were pulling themselves up poles, hanging themselves upside down -- they were showcasing the expertise that is needed in order to accomplish these athletic feats. And the throwing of the money showers are a show of affection for the experience these women are giving you.

Magic City in Atlanta has the Snack Pack, a group of women who do these complicated routines where they're lifting each other up on the pole. It's much more of an acrobatic act than a strip tease, a lot of them don't even take off their floss. They're scantily clad -- it is a strip club so that's part of the costume -- but you're really seeing a blend of burlesque and gymnastics versus just a female body that's naked onstage.

What did it take to shoot these sequences?


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