This image released by Starz shows Shannon Thornton in a scene from "P-Valley." (Tom Griscom/Starz via AP)
LOS ANGELES — When Katori Hall first pitched the idea to convert her popular play about Black strip club culture into the television series “P-Valley,” the Pulitzer Prize winner was either quickly rejected after meeting with networks or denied before she could fully explain the concept.
Hall struggled to find support from some network executives who thought the concept would be exploitative of Black women, in light of the history of casting them in hypersexualized roles on screen. Hall, who is a Black woman, understood they wanted to avoid any backlash, but her overall vision was focused on humanizing exotic dancers — which Starz heard with “open ears.”
“I felt like there were some strong characters here,” said Hall, who won a 2021 Pulitzer Prize for her play “The Hot Wing King.” She serves as the creator, showrunner and executive producer of the drama series “P-Valley,” an adaptation of her 2015 stage play.
“It would be commentary for all women when it came to how we as a gender are really struggling between the spaces of power and liberation in our own lives,” she continued. “Starz was the only one that said ‘yes.’ But I’m a firm believer that all you have to do is take that one ‘yes’ and make something of it.”
“P-Valley” tells a story about several exotic dancers — veteran and newcomers — who are trying to make a name for themselves at a popular Mississippi Delta strip club called The Pynk, which is owned by a nonbinary and gender-fluid character, Uncle Clifford. The series gained popularity over two seasons for exploring the provocative world of Black Southern sex workers while also addressing homosexuality, poverty and mental health.
Sunday’s season finale unveils how the strip club is faced with several obstacles after its grand reopening following pandemic lockdowns. The previous episode — which featured an appearance from Grammy winner Meghan Thee Stallion — touched on the strip club’s influence over the mayoral election.
It’s unclear if “P-Valley” will return for a third season. Starz has not made an official announcement.
Hall knew her series could resonate with viewers, saying strip clubs in the South are more of an intriguing spectacle than taboo. It’s a place where businessmen have closed deals and major rap artists like Drake and Future have broken big records.
“We had to overcome other people’s preconceived notions of the space,” Hall said. “I think we were able to do that through character work and development. I really spent years talking to so many different women and was so inspired by their experiences to create these fictional characters that feel so much like real life.”
While “P-Valley” has been well received by most, it has also been met with tough criticism. Some on social media took aim at the show for featuring gay sex scenes, particularly between Black men.
“What I have found in my experience as a Black man in this country is that I know Black people to love (each other). I know that’s not the common narrative,” said Nicco Annan, who plays the flamboyant Uncle Clifford. Annan, who is gay, felt immediately drawn to the story when he read the play’s script in 2009.
“I know there’s a lot of combative forces out here like homophobia that exist,” he continued. “But it’s an honor to be a part of a project that holds the banner up for all that we are as a community. This show is successful because it subverts the expectation that you have for all of these characters.”
Brandee Evans, who stars as veteran stripper Mercedes, shares Annan’s sentiments. She said the show explores the different reasons women venture into sex work, such as a financial means to an end or to celebrate the freedom of showing off their body.
“It’s beautiful for the world to see the authenticity of it all,” Evans said. “It’s a lot to take in when you watch it, because it’s the truth.”
Hall understands her show has created some uncomfortable conversations on topics such as queer acceptance and Black empowerment.
“It’s needed,” she said. “We have to be honest. There are queer people in our families and churches — everywhere around us. I would say ‘P-Valley’ is going to represent every Black person. We’re going to represent all types of people on our show.”
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