When you hear the word “stripper” what comes to your mind? “Poor?” “Sad?” “Desperate?” How about “Strong?” “Empowering?” “Intelligent?” “Artist?”
So often society has crafted the narrative strippers represent one of the lowest forms of employment; not realizing the art form behind the tease, the power females control over their customers, the selling of not only sex but desire: the need to want to spend hard-earned money, to keep buying drinks, to keep fantasizing and to make a person believe they have the control when in reality they’re denied their most necessary sense: the ability to touch. But this is what keeps people coming back for more.
In fact, the term “stripper” doesn’t even come close to what these women do. They are artists, they are athletes providing an art form, stretching from the poorest of clubs to today’s popular music. Yes, strippers help dictate popular rap songs.
In Starz P-Valley, this eight-episode series is not about “stripping” but about the lives of dancers/athletes/professional teasers full of grit and glitter, set deep down in the Mississippi Delta.
The show comes to life with music, it’s complicated messy characters, telling the boldest and most colorful story of a hole-in-the-wall strip club and the eclectic lives of people who can’t get enough of what the town needs most: a form of escapism.
The Koalition spoke to celebrity choreographer-turned-breakout-star Brandee Evans who breathes Mercedes. We dive into the popcorn-worthy mother/daughter relationship of her character, the black Shakespearean dialogue writer/creator Katori Hall effortlessly showcases, how P-Valley can change how society views strippers and more.
Before becoming a breakout actress in P-Valley, Evans was the chair of a high school English department and taught Hip-Hop in Heels classes in her native Memphis, Tennessee. She found a passion and a career in dancing which took her around the world, choreographing and dancing for major recording artists.
Despite her wildly successful career as a dancer/choreographer, Evans wanted something more and dancing was no longer fueling her as an artist. She was simply burnt out.
But then came P-Valley and the role of Mercedes, a wise hard-nosed headliner looking forward to her imminent retirement who finds herself having to teach the next dancer who most likely could replace her as the main attraction.
“It was Katori’s writing. You know I didn’t see the dancing at first. Honestly, I still don’t see the dancing when I read it. I don’t see the dance I see the story behind it and the dance is just the part of telling a story; so that’s what made it beautiful for me. I was like ‘I just want to act.’ That was the big deal for me. I wanted to make sure I was acting and people take me seriously as an actor.”
“And I’m like, ‘well you know, people already know you dance, so if you just jump into dancing again, what’s special? Oh, you’re just doing what you always do?’ So I really wanted to push myself. Angela Bassett is one of my favorite actresses ever, and I was looking at this like, ‘I want to have that kind of work Angela does and SHE ain’t around here dancing.’
Those were my thoughts. But then I was like, ‘wait, the way this is written reminds me of her playing Tina Turner. She’s telling stories.’ I love it.”
“I had my thoughts [about strippers and strip clubs], I must say it, unlike Mercedes, [Strip clubs were] a place I didn’t frequent. It was just like, you don’t go to strip clubs growing up. Once I found out about this project, I was able to research more. That was my only one in Memphis before this project. [My] first experience was with Drake on tour. I thought then, ‘wait, this is not what I felt people have said about it; it’s actually fun, you got men, women in here, couples.’ Even then I was like, ‘okay, it’s not what I thought’ but I still didn’t frequent it.”
“When I got this show, I started researching [to go] on the audition, I started going to different clubs and I was like, ‘oh, this is a party, like this is so much fun, it’s not what you think.’ I’m interviewing women while I’m getting lap dances from them and just realizing these women have stories. The Number one rule in P-Valley is, “let that stage be your stepping stone, not your tombstone.”
While it’s easy to dismiss P-Valley as a TV show about “strippers,” it’s not. P-Valley is about sexual freedom and one of the only few shows with the message women are not just their bodies. This is a series by a woman about women whose stories must be told because they are so often dismissed by society.
“The liberation of it all [is empowering]. The fact these women decide if it’s liberating or exploitative. I love that, that’s the power behind just being a woman in general. We decide and make that choice, y’all. I like the confidence these women have. I got more confident with my body and myself, just watching these women around set with me that do this for a living seriously. Katori just didn’t have extras in there, she had the real people in there that live this life every day and some of them were still working at the club while filming. These women are actresses and athletes.
The character Mercedes is more than a dancer facing retirement. She has a complicated relationship with her preacher family and a mother who angrily condemns her daughter’s choices but doesn’t have an issue with taking what money Mercedes makes from stripping. Its relationship is both toxic but a glorious scene-stealer in the pilot episode which continues throughout the season.
“Mercedes is so similar to me. The only difference between Mercedes and me is the fact I never worked in the club. She’s a PK (preacher’s kid) and I’m a PK. She had a toxic relationship with her mom growing up and I did as well. She’s a dance coach that wins and is kind of crazy. That was me. I’m actually crazier than Mercedes when it comes to my dance team girls, they will let you know. But it was that drive, so I was able to use everything within my life experiences for this role.”
When it comes to the relationship between Mercedes and her mother, “just keep watching, episode 5, you will be enlightened, you’ll learn a lot, it’s so heavy. It’s a lot going on in episode 5. Just keep watching and know it’s not what you think. I keep telling everyone the show is not what you think and as soon as you feel like you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. Katori has written this so well and crafted this so well, it’s going to be a roller-coaster ride of emotions.”
For those still judgemental about watching a show about a taboo topic; “don’t judge a book by its cover. Give it a whole season. It’s just like a movie, you might not like the start of it but keep watching because once you get to the end you might realize ‘wow, it’s not even what I thought.’ So I think people should keep watching for sure. To me, you don’t start putting those pieces together until a few episodes in, and then you’re like ‘oh my gosh’ you’re going to want to go back and re-watch it. I’ve re-watched it myself and I have all eight episodes, and I keep going back, going ‘wow, I missed this on this person’s scene, wow this is happening, this is happening,’ because it truly is that show you can watch over and over and still find something new.”
P-Valley is simply “sexy, intriguing, and authentic.”
Make sure you watch the show every Sunday on Starz and check out our full interview below with Evans.