Creating a shows about strippers meant finding the right network willing to tell the story, said Katori Hall, creator, executive producer and showrunner for Starz’s “P-Valley.”
In a Variety Streaming Room conversation, moderated by Variety’s Jenelle Riley, Hall discussed the challenges she encountered while getting the show on its feet. The series follows a group of strippers in the Mississippi Delta. Joined by actors Brandee Evans and Nicco Annan, as well as episode 103 director Millicent Shelton, the showrunner also explained the importance of capturing stories like the one in her show.
“I remember there was some people who wouldn’t even let me in the room. It was just so taboo, and (there was) also the assumption that I wasn’t going to do it justice and that it was always going to be just salacious,” Hall said. “But at Starz … they really understood what I was trying to do. I was really trying to humanize these women, these women who have been marginalized, dehumanized, misunderstood, misrepresented.”
Networks’ hesitations that she wouldn’t do the story justice likely stems from the fact that this is the first show Hall has ever served as showrunner. With directing and writing experience in theater, however, she had honed her talent even before coming around to “P-Valley.”
For Shelton, the script was so powerful upon her first read that she simply could not process networks declining to hear Hall’s pitch. The idea of telling a story about strippers in a light that highlights their powerful qualities and humanity was executed expertly, she said. It’s part of a mission on Hall’s part to expand upon the body of entertainment content about Black women.
“The first play I got paid for was a play called ‘Hoodoo Love,’ it was the first play that I ever wrote,” Hall said. “I was in acting school when I was writing it, and I learned very quickly that there seemed to be a lot more power on the other side of the table. So I was like, I want to just create more opportunities for myself and the women who look like me.”
Evans, who plays the role of Mercedes, said that before reading the script, she also found herself worrying about the “stripper show” and what its plot might entail. But after reading through it and discussing with her father — a preacher — she knew it was worth pursuing the role.
Of the show’s ability to showcase the human depth of its characters and avoid objectifying the women, Evans said, “If my daddy can see through it, this is why Katori probably wrote this: for the world to see through it and see past just the fact that they’re strippers.”
And as for Season 2, Hall said she plans to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic head-on. Though she knows many series are choosing to forego or only briefly address it, the showrunner said it feels like a duty for her to highlight the resilience of Black women and Black communities during the pivotal moment in history.
“This pandemic has stopped many businesses from gathering. You can’t have music concerts, yet strip clubs down South are on and popping,” Hall said. “I really feel as though we need to honor the moment and tell this story. And we have to have a document as to how we survived — particularly how Black folks are surviving this moment, because no one’s telling that story.”
Watch the full video above.