'P-Valley' Creator on Cardi B, Female Gaze and Black Girl Magic on TV (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Katori Hall, the creator and playwright behind the Starz stripper drama P-Valley, feels vindicated over the success of her series. “Because even when it was in its pitch form, when I was going around town, trying to find a home for the show, there was a knee-jerk reaction,” she tells ET. “People didn't even want to hear the pitch because they just weren't interested in the show that was about this world and women who are exotic dancers.”
Needless to say, the executives who passed on it were wrong.
Set in the Mississippi Delta, P-Valley follows a kaleidoscope of lives inside and out of a struggling local strip club -- Mercedes (Brandee Evans), Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), Miss Mississippi (Shannon Thornton), Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson) and Andre (Parker Sawyers) -- where beauty meets broken dreams and trap music reigns supreme. It debuted in July to critical acclaim -- with a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- has seen its audience grow from episode to episode and was renewed for a second season within weeks of its premiere.
“It just feels really good that the audience was hungry for a story like this because it's done with so much love and respect and so much brutal honesty,” Hall says. “And I am just so grateful that it arrived at a moment where I think the world is really ready to listen to the voices of folks who have been marginalized for so long.”
While the current cultural reckoning and the Black Live Matters movement have bolstered attention and appreciation for a series that stars and is written and directed by people of color, Hall always knew there was an audience clamoring for something like this.
“That’s why I was so hellbent on making this show. I knew how important southern Black strip club culture was to the world, to other art forms like hip-hop,” she says, adding that P-Valley also goes beyond the pole, tackling issues like racism, colorism, gender and sexuality as well as generational wealth within Black communities, to serve an underappreciated fan base. “This show is just hitting on so many levels.”
Hall also credits the rise of Cardi B, who famously got started as an exotic dancer before topping the music charts with hits like “Bodak Yellow” and “WAP,” for mainstreaming strip culture. “I'm very thankful for Cardi B and the fact that she blew up when she did because I do think it helped prepare the public for this story,” the creator says. “There were people who were already huge Cardi B fans before she even blew up. It's funny, I used to follow her when she was a stripper.”
Hall adds that it’s been interesting to see how women like the rapper as well as Amber Rose and Blac Chyna have helped strip club culture crossover at the same time as it’s become popularized with fitness classes and is even recognized as a sport in some communities where there are championships and other competitions.
She even considers Hustlers, the 2019 film starring Jennifer Lopez and featuring Cardi B in a supporting role, and P-Valley cousins because of “the fact that we are centering the female gaze within this world, which for so long has always been about a man’s story inside of that space,” Hall says.
In fact, reclaiming that gaze was what led Hall to recruit women, from Boys Don’t Cry’s Kimberly Peirce to Empire actress Tasha Smith to music video director Karena Evans, to helm all eight episodes of season 1.
“What was interesting during the interview process was that whenever I asked the question, ‘What is your definition of the female gaze?,’ the male directors never really had an answer because it wasn’t something they ever had to think about versus the women who were being interviewed always had a huge list of things they would do when it came to making sure the show didn’t come off as gratuitous or exploitative.”
Adding to the equal opportunity nature of the series are the flashes of male full-frontal nudity from episode to episode. For Hall, it was about bringing a balance to what’s seen on screen, especially what’s required of the female cast. “I felt like if these women are going to be baring it all, both physically and emotionally, then the men who are on the show are going to have to do that as well,” she says, explaining that at the end of the day, it’s a show about adult entertainment.
Nudity aside, P-Valley is also entertaining, quickly making it one of the most buzzed-about shows of the summer alongside Michaela Coel’s HBO series, I May Destroy You, and Misha Green’s adaptation of Lovecraft Country, also on HBO. While each tells wildly different stories, all three series were created by and star Black women. For Hall, “it’s about damn time.”
“I’m so happy to be in the company of Misha Green and Michaela Coel. I love both of their work truly and deeply,” Hall says. “I’m overjoyed that Black girl magic is shining through like the sun. We’ve always been here and we’re not going anywhere for a very long time.”