Although the playwright-turned-series creator and showrunner tells Variety she “did try to hire men,” during interviews she asked, “What is your definition of the female gaze? And I would say 10 times out of 10, the men did not have an answer to that question.”
“And so, knowing that was my goal, to show this world through the eyes of women, I knew that I really had to pick artists and interview directors who were passionate about that and had already started investigating that gaze within their own work, and so naturally, the hiring practice quickly became all-female,” she explains.
“P-Valley” is inspired by Hall’s 2015 play “Pussy Valley” about the lives of strippers in the Mississippi Delta. The series explores the mystery and athleticism of pole dancing at the Pynk strip club through performers Mercedes (Brandee Evans), Miss Mississippi (Shannon Thornton), Gidget (Skyler Joy), Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson), the club’s transgender owner Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), patron and aspiring rapper Lil’ Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and the Mayor’s lawyer godson Andre Watkins (Parker Sawyers).
Hall’s play was based off of interviews with 40 strippers from across the country, and she wanted to make sure her series was equally as authentic.
“All together these women, who just happen to be strippers, are showing us the struggles of all women,” Hall says. “I really want people to see the depth of their humanity just because I know that this group of women has been marginalized and have been made to feel ashamed and cast aside and for me, I’m like, ‘Not on my watch.'”
Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Hall describes strip culture as “part of your coming of age,” where people have celebrations and embrace the theatrical experience of pole dancing. This, however, is not typically seen on television.
“I keep on thinking about Tony Soprano and the Bada Bing [club] and every time he’d come into that space, you have the camera trained on Tony and the women are in soft focus or are not in soft focus and you just see their leg or their boobs floating by, but you don’t even see their faces,” Hall says. “And for ‘P-Valley’ we are going beyond the objectification: we are talking about how it feels to be objectified and not necessarily participating in that.”
Hall, a Black creator, is dedicated to providing nuance to Black life across mediums — something that she says has been missing in entertainment and is determined to change.
“Oftentimes when there have been images of blackness, they’ve existed in polar opposites. They’re either downtrodden, the criminal, or there’s this uber-aspirational image of perfection that one has to attain in order to be accepted,” Hall says. “I find that Hollywood has been oscillating between those types of images and unfortunately, when they try to put forth images that are about the Black community, it’s unfortunately in service to stories that center on characters who are white.”
Hall says her cast members started training months in advance on the pole in order to play their roles at the Pynk. When they arrived in Atlanta, choreographer Jamaica Craft put the women through specialized training programs to improve flexibility and core strength. Evans, trained in hip-hop, was a backup dancer for Katy Perry and Beyoncé, so she was able to transfer her skills to the pole.
“You could see how good they were getting by looking at their legs. You could see that they had less bruises over the course of shooting and training,” Hall says. “It’s such an interesting art form — exotic dancing. It includes not only the lap dances and striptease, but it often takes more intricate and athletic pole dancing tricks.”
Premiering July 12 on Starz, Hall says the audience should expect “grit and glitter, shim and shine.”
“It’s going to be a mystery and it’s going to be a roller coaster ride,” she continues. “There’s going to be a lot of surprises. The people that work [in strip clubs] and the people who come through those doors are not who you think they are. People will be boiled over for what’s to come for all these dreamers and strivers and hustlers.”