WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
P-Valley follows the lives of the owner and employees of a strip club called The Pynk in the fictional town of Chucalissa, Mississippi.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The release of Hustlers in 2019 changed a lot of discourse about stripping and pole dancing.
Something that is often treated as seedy and almost predatory, which is filmed by a woman, gives it a new form of respect, which is often missing when strippers are treated as objects.
P-Valley is a further exploration of this. It centres around strippers at a club called The Pynk in the fictional town of Chucalissa in the Mississippi Delta. But it is essentially a workplace drama about an underdog business fighting a large corporation. It could easily have been about a regular bar or a paint shop. And that's what P-Valley does - it humanises strip clubs. It is not just a music video setting or a plot device. It is a real place where real people work.
And the characters make the series so special. Each is three-dimensional, and they have their reasons for working at The Pynk. We are introduced to the club and Chucalissa by Hailey (Elarica Johnson), who arrives in the town and is running from a mysterious past. There is Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), the genderfluid owner of The Pynk, who protects the women ferociously and sees the club as their legacy. There is Mercedes (Brandee Evans), the star dancer of the club who wants out of the game, and Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton) who is a mother who has an abusive partner. There are other characters peppered into the story, but their stories are not given as much top billing as these four.
The clear shining star of the series is Brandee Evans as Mercedes. She embodies the role so well, that she and Mercedes become one. Every action, every word that comes out of her mouth, feels so authentic and believable that it is easy to get stuck into her story and what she is trying to achieve. However, the show is its most exciting when it is centred around the club - revealing the hierarchy and the intricacies around the various rooms and what makes the club what it is. When the story veers away from the club, it is difficult to keep in line the different plot points and characters.
But the show is clear not to treat the strip club and the world in which it finds itself in as some sort of paradise. Within the first season, its deals with poverty, homophobia, abuse, and the objectivation of women. Parenting is also a theme throughout the season: Mercedes is constantly battling her domineering mother, while still trying to be an unconventional mother; Hailey has some underlying issues around being a mother; Keyshawn is constantly reminded of her role as she often has to bring her baby with her to the club and the crying reminds us of the baby's presence in her life; Gidget (Skyler Joy) has to take care of her sick mother, and Uncle Clifford has to play the role of father and mother for the girls. Uncle Clifford protects them but also shows compassion.
So how did this show manage to not seem seedy and problematic? It uses all-female directors to give it a unique feminine gaze. Similarly to Hustlers (which was directed by Lorene Scafaria), it shows stripping, nudity and pole dancing in a way that shows how impressive the women are.
The directors of the first season were Karena Evans, Kimberly Peirce, Millicent Shelton, Tamra Davis, Geeta V Patel, Tasha Smith, Sydney Freeland and Barbra Brown. The show still feels sexy and gritty but in a way that feels empowering and honest. They have described the show in the press as a "trap music meets film noir", and that is exactly the effect that I got from the series. It does not get lost in trying to entice the audience with nudity and sex; we know that you find that at a strip club, but that's not the only factors behind what makes this establishment work.
Every dancer knows that music choice is important, and the soundtrack of the series makes you feel as if you immediately want to get up and dance. From the title track to what is being played in the background of the scenes, you will want to dance.
Another plotline of the series follows aspiring rapper, Lil Murda (J Alphonse Nicholson) as he tries to get his music played at The Pynk. He is also struggling to understand his sexual identity in an industry that does not condone anything other than being straight. His music, however, improves over the season, and in particular, one song, Fallin', was stuck in my head long after I finished watching it.
The series was based on the play by the showrunner, Katori Hall, called Pussy Valley. According to Hall, this is a result of six years of research and interviews with more than 40 women in strip clubs across the United States and in particular, in the south.
"I want people to respect what these women do...They are athletes. They are super-sheroes. They are on this pole, and they are flying around like birds. You really have to build up your body, build up your strength and build up your bravery to be able to get up on that pole, so the show really focuses on the athleticism and showcases the realness of the craft," Hall said.
The dialogue is almost poetic, and you can see that it was written by a playwright. A lot of what is said is also extremely localised and might be difficult for South African people to understand, so I suggest watching it with subtitles. But you easily get sucked into the lyrical nature of the script, and you appreciate how well it is crafted and written. It feels like a labour of love.
P-Valley is an interesting exploration of women who are generally used as props or often overlooked. It tells their stories, while still entertaining and enticing the audience. It is a story worth watching and learning from.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
P-Valley airs Tuesdays at 22:30 on 1Magic and Showmax.