Last summer, the doors of The Pynk opened way down deep in the Mississippi Delta and introduced the world to P-Valley‘s fictitious universe, quickly becoming one of the biggest TV phenomenons of 2020. The hit STARZ strip club drama took us on a wild ride and one year later, viewers are still craving more from the provocative series. Not even halfway through its first season, the show nabbed an early season two renewal, signaling that the must-see series has the chops to stick around for the long haul to continue telling stories that shed light on sex workers, strip club culture and relationship dynamics within niche communities. Although the underground critically-acclaimed show wasn’t eligible for last year’s Emmy Award nominations, this year P-Valley hopes to be considered as a worthy contender for its revolutionary talent of storytelling.
With Emmy contention underway amid anticipation of the upcoming season, Shadow and Act spoke with series stars Brandee Evans (Mercedes) and Nicco Annan (Uncle Clifford) to talk about the impact of P-Valley a year after its debut, what they appreciate most about being part of such a cultural-shifting show and what it would mean to earn Emmy nominations this year.
Aside from life during the pandemic, a lot has changed for the P-Valley cast since its 2020 summer premiere. The show became wildly popular amongst viewers, so much so that members of the cast have risen to widespread stardom. “Chile I’m grateful [for this opportunity] but we can’t go nowhere,” Evans laughs about being easily recognized in public now. “That’s the biggest change, but just sitting in the beauty of what we’ve created has been wonderful and the fact that people are still catching onto it is shocking, but beautiful. To even see people still learning about the show even though it’s been off the air for a year.”
“I feel like in my circle and in the cast our lives have changed, not only because of the show, but because of the pandemic and the things that we all have internally been going through,” Annan echos. “But business wise, I’ll say that I feel like there’s been a shift in the appreciation of our art and all different marginalized communities. Just being able to see the art on an elevated platform like STARZ and in the world of Chucalissa, I think it’s been great to see people who live in another experience, whether that’s from a perspective of race, identity or just employment. A lot of people are now having a different understanding and appreciation of sex workers and pole dancers, and appreciating the artistry and athleticism of the women and people who are in this world.”
Unlike most strip club-centered shows we’ve seen on television in recent years, P-Valley takes it a step further to explore the lives of the show’s characters outside of The Pynk to give a closer look into this overlooked community of workers. P-Valley is breaking the glass ceiling on what is deemed taboo in the sense that it’s been able to dismantle the stigma around Black strip clubs, particular in the South, to expose the beauty and non-exploitive side of this community.
“I think that this season you’re going to see a lot of things that happen outside of the club, which I feel like season one we gave you that moment of humanizing these characters,” Evans says of season two. “But now you are going to be able to see what happens a little bit more when you go home with these characters. I don’t think on TV you’ve really seen what happens truly at home on any show that you try to compare us to, and we’re going to continue to break that barrier. This isn’t anything you’ve ever seen before, P-Valley stands alone in that sense. And it’s shot from a woman’s gaze, which I think is so beautiful and Katori [Hall] is going to continue on with those female directors this season as well. It’s a beautiful moment when you’re able to see it through a woman’s eyes and mostly with a woman’s perspective on the show.”
For Evans, the fact that the show was created and led by a team filled with women is what reassured her that P-Valley was doing something revolutionary. On top of that, just reading the scripts that actress was able to tell that the role was actually made just for her. “So many things attracted me to [Mercedes] at first. When I first started reading [the scripts], I was like wait a minute man, they sound like back home. Then the fact that Mercedes was a dance coach, I was a dance coach. She’s a [preacher’s kid], I’m a PK. Her kind of being that boss of the club, I had a company called “Hip-Hop On the Hills.” So I was just like, everything is lining up too similar. And then when we get into the toxicity of mom, me and mama was toxic back in the day too, so I was like, okay this is for me. And I don’t know where Katori started stalking me, but she knew that I was Mercedes. It just felt real. And if I was going to ever play a role like this as a sex worker, I wanted it to be real and not shot from a male’s gaze or not written from a male’s perspective, but be able to go deeper because there’s more about these women than [just] their bodies.”
Evans and Annan have both been regarded as breakout stars on the show for their captivating roles, but for Annan this wasn’t his first rodeo with Uncle Clifford. The actor played his character in the original Pussy Valley play written by series creator Hall, but brought something new to the table this time around to ensure the role was still made just for him. “When we brought the show to the [TV] screen, I really wanted to bring in the intimacy. I think that a lot of times you get to see the grand newness of a lot of my sisters and brothers that are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but you don’t get to experience what’s the thing that creates the catalyst to have them fly above and be bigger than.”
What’s remarkable about P-Valley is the rawness and realness that jumps off the screen in each and every episode. The show blew viewers minds because this is something that hasn’t been done before in the world of television, so to see how the show unfolds these taboo topics and tackles them head on is just one of its few charms that made it one of best things on TV last year. Season one changed the game, but the hit series aims to take it up a notch in the upcoming season. “Being able to see the complexities of our characters laced in and really, really layered and stacked, I think it’s going to really take folks to another level [next season] because we go even deeper,” Annan shares. “It’s going to be a wild ride, and I don’t know if everybody is ready for season two.”
Beyond showcasing the show’s stars in the strip club life, P-Valley also drives home a sincere message around embracing queer identity and how fluid it is on this fictional world where we get to see these characters be seen as just human beings, void of shame and disapproval. “What I love is that I can be a part of a show that can show you being beautiful as a woman in all facets,” Evans says. I wanted other women [watching the show] to feel that way, and I know Katori is going to allow me to continue to do that with Mercedes this [upcoming] season.”
Despite being written from a woman’s perspective, P-Valley doesn’t shy away from relationship dynamics amongst the men on the show, and it’s a beautiful aspect a lot of viewers were drawn to. “I love the relationship that Uncle Clifford has, not only with the girls, but with the men of the club too,” Annan tells us. “I love the intersection of a non-binary person – or even a lesbian, a gay, bisexual or trans person – being able to have healthy relationships with heterosexual men and even hyper-masculine men [on the show]. That’s not only in a romantic space with Uncle Clifford and Lil Murda, I’m talking about Uncle Clifford and Big L and Diamond too. I love that in this world, Black people are allowed to see one another for all that they are without such adversity or oppression. I think there’s a magic to these people that is reflective of who we are in real life.”
This year, P-Valley is campaigning hard to be considered for the Emmy Awards, but with all the love the show has received, the cast is just honored to still be the talk of the TV world. “I’m still sitting in the now, just being present where we are now is such a blessing,” Evans says. “I know I can speak for every cast member when I say this is what we all prayed for and we’re sitting in this moment and we’re just thankful. The fact that we did this with a successful season is something that we all dreamed about.”
“I think being in the conversation is the win for a lot of us. This is a project that has catapulted our careers to higher levels and definitely greater visibility amongst the world,” Annan says. “It is going to be great when we get those statues because I do claim it. But I also know that in the meantime in between time, it’s awesome to have people really ask questions and investigate like, well what was this costume about? And to hear Mercedes say when she comes back to the club for her last dance, ‘I want it to look like the universe busted a nut all over my body.’ To some people her tone may seem crass, but then to turn that around and say this is how the universe loves on me, it’s so awesome.”
“It’s a Southern Fried drama for real, but on a lot of levels, it is just as artistic and expressive and complex,” Annan concludes. “You may not anticipate that this story in a fictitious world called Chucalissa about a strip club-that-could would really be in the same conversation as some of those other [great shows]. And that to be honest, is the [real] win because we’re changing people’s mindsets and that hopefully affects how people look at [others] in the real world.”