It was a chilly November Sunday in Charlottesville, filled with the usual activities that UVA students indulge in: brunch and then studying and reading in preparation of the weeks classes. The last week before Thanksgiving break no less.
Everything changed at 10:32 pm when UVA students and Charlottesville residents were inundated with texts and emails from police describing a shooting that occurred on grounds.
We lost 3 beautiful souls that night. Three young, intelligent, determined, dedicated and passionate Black men: Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. They were taken far too soon and even if you didn’t personally know them, their deaths are shocking and saddening— leaving the community confused, depressed and anxious.
Speaking as a Black woman there is a different element to this that makes the pain so much worse which is the fact that their lives were taken by a fellow Black male student. After watching a play based on the murder of Emmett Till. The added notion that this happened on a campus built by our enslaved ancestors makes the pain so much deeper. How do we heal from this while honoring the lives of those whose lives were taken so senselessly? How do we move forward as a University and community?
I am learning that coming together, talking and comforting one another is not unique to UVA. Yes, there have been several tragedies over the years that they’ve dealt with but like one of my fellow classmates said “nothing can prepare you for this.”
There’s been an effort by UVA to let students and community members know that we are all grieving together. Classes assembled outside of classrooms to talk, a student led vigil was held on Monday, different organizations, departments and professors have reached out to students offering safe spaces to process Sunday.
Everyone is affected by their deaths including students, administrators and community members. Especially students as we've walked the same brick lined pathways and sat in the same classrooms as the young men. I met an Uber driver who drove Lavel a few weeks ago. He mentioned that he was a bright, talkative young man who had dreams of going to the NFL, retiring at 30 and then opening a center for troubled teens. I talked with fellow students about Devin’s infectious smile and how he worked at a popular bar on UVA’s corner. I scrolled and found videos of D’Sean rapping surrounded by his fellow teammates hyping him up along with tweets from his Father discussing what would’ve been future plans to get his doctorate.
As a Black woman in my opinion, these men were and still are role models exemplifying Black excellence as being a Black person on Mr. Jefferson’s campus is a revolutionary act within itself. It’s a shame that their lives were cut short before they were able to fully realize their dreams. It feels unfair.
This is more than a media moment that will fade into the news cycle. This is more than just another shooting that will be added to nearly 600+ that have occurred this year in America. We are the generation that were born in the years prior to or several years after Columbine. We are no strangers to this violence yet when it occurs at your school there is an element of vulnerability, anxiety and sadness that overcomes the entire community. Congress and the state must do more to stop gun violence, we must invest in education and mental health services and make sure that students from pre-school to college are safe to explore making new friends, find their purpose and acquire knowledge. No student should feel scared to go to school, to live their lives or go on a field trip.
As the great Marvin Gaye said in his song “What’s Going On?”
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, yeah”
Right on. We’ve got to find a way. I have faith Charlottesville will heal and honor those who are gone, I pray it doesn’t stop there. We need more than thoughts and prayers, we need change.
As I sat in my apartment on a cool summer night, the #PynkPosse was already blowing up Twitter in anticipation of the season 2 finale of Starz “P-Valley,” created by Cancer Queen Katori Hall.
Hall has made several artistic contributions including acclaimed Broadway musical Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Pussy Valley and screenwrote several other plays including her most notable play was Pulitzer prize winning The Hot Wing King. Her work speaks for itself as it explores the intricacies of Black American life specifically centering Black women in the discourse from a Black womens point of view.
This is why in the midst of the pandemic and the summer of 2020, also infamously called the “racial reckoning” named the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, marches, and calls for defunding the police that echoed across the country from rural towns like P-Valley’s own Chucalissa, Mississippi to New York City and all over the world. Hall’s intervention into the steaming zeitgeist was revolutionary in itself for some many reasons, yet I am here today to emphasize how important this work is for the culture as it is so much more than a show about strippers.
That summer the dam of racial coexistence broke after years of attempted integration of our institutions, affirmative action and the integration of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights– we even had a Black man as President had proved to be turning points but not the end of the racism or oppression of minorities.
When the show was set the premiere hearts and minds were set on understanding the Black American perspective by what white allies called “listening” and “doing the work,” to be real.. the jury is still out on that one. Yet in this tense time, I recall feeling a new appreciation, hope and joyto be a Black woman in America. For the first time since it DID feel like people wanted to hear what we had to say. Sure, it may have been negated directly after by those claiming we are exaggerating (see: Meghan Markle) regardless, it felt good to be Black, I recall blasting “Black Parade” Beyonce’s protest single daily, embracing Black American texts of the past and present and of course as the media studies scholar I am, exploring shows about Black Americans written by a Black Women.
P-Valley aired for the first time during Cancer season on July 12, 2020– as I mentioned before in the middle of the quarantine period while some were taking what I call covid vacations others were stuck at work and fighting the power when our schedules allowed it. I was working at a drycleaner in my small Pennsylvania town, recently laid off from my communications job for a research center in the state capitol. I too, was out protesting, marching and speaking when I wasn't working, I felt a fire ignited within bubbling from the forces of anger and the need for change. What better way to do my part than to inundate myself with Black American culture so that I can understand the perspectives, struggle of all my people.
Maybe Katori Hall had no idea that her show would be a God-send to myself and to Black Twitter, but it was needed in a time where Black people were for the first time, since the 1960s coming together to speak truth to power regardingour genuine experiences.
P-Valley represents so much more thanit’s description on my Starz app which reads: “The Pynk is a popular strip club in Mississippi, where intrigue abounds when the mysterious Autumn is welcomed by Mercedes, the dancer and Uncle Clifford, the club’s discreet owner.”
The Pynk, is a strip club, yes, but as main character Uncle Clifford, the queer owner by family rite discussed in Season 2, “The Pynk ain’t just a building baby. This is my life, my memory, my dream.”
The actor that plays Clifford, Nico Anaan recently spoke with “Reality TV King” Carlos King on King’s podcast Anaan emphasized that the main characters were determined to authentically tell the stories of Black Americans in the Bible belt.
“What better place to get ‘naked’” Anaan spoke matter of factly, “when we sing (theme song) ‘Down in the valley where the girls get naked’ it’s not about clothes, we’re talking about hearts, we’re talking about minds, so we can truly see who these people are.”
Just like Uncle Clifford Annan offers wisdom and insight exposing the intricate ways Hall and the writers, actors and actresses do important storytelling that speaks the real intersections that influence everyday Black Americans.
There’s a reason why high-profile celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Deion Sanders talk about liking the show and why each Saturday and Sunday of the second season it trends on Black Twitter for afleast 3 days. Here are a few popular tweets from the finale:
@_kayela: Lil Murda is the most well rounded character I’ve seen on television in years. He a poet, a lover, a killer, and a good friend all in one. #PValley
“The Pynk’s PR Intern” tweeted: Uncle Clifford Rule 88: Just cause a bitch good at keeping the peace don’t mean she ain’t good at wagin’ war💯😮💨 #PValley
We, the audience, love it! I can’t help from commenting live every week and whoever is running the @PValleySTARZ account does a great job engaging the audience by releasing the episode soundtrack, posting the recipe to make a “Pynk Drink” as well as asking if the audience is “coming down to the Pynk?!” and what they’re wearing.
When I speak about it to friends I tell them it is a mix between Ozarks, Insecure and Real Housewives of Atlanta. That doesn’t even do it justice though because Hall and the fantastic writers have woven the effects of systematic racism on economics, education and human services while exposing the nuances Black people, especially women have to navigate on a daily basis. Topics like sexuality in the Black community, spirituality including hoodoo and christianity, discussions revealing domestic violence, colorism, internalized Misogynoir and gang violence are displayed.
So are situated knowledge triggered by collective Black memories like Motown music, soul food, southern-isms and metaphors, rules and ways of being that are only seen in Black households make it feel like we all grew up in Chucalissa, Mississippi for an hour.
Most notably for me, the emphasis on Black feminism in this show is important and iintegral to the shows success, the strippers are strippers because Black women have traditionally been left out of that traditional economy which forces them to think outside of the box in terms of employment, the women on this show, mostly women of color and low-income chose this version of sex-work as a mode of power, self-esteem booster and good money.
I would argue that these women are much like the Black women rappers of the third wave of feminism in the 90s who wrote lyrics reversing the male gaze. In this instance they would sexualize men and center themselves in their pleasure. This is seen throughout the series in their personal lives as well as when performing on stage, while watching scenes of the women sliding, climbing, shaking and twerking, in these scenes the music is cut so that the audience can only hear the women breathing—emphasizing the magic and strength of what they are able to do on the pole. Main characters, Mercedes and Mississippi are prime examples of Black feminism on the show as their characters reiterate that Black women are not a monolith. They both yearn for their own financial independence and are blocked by obstacles outside of their control while recovering from past and ongoing trauma of being a Black woman in America. Their characters delve into sensitive topics of abortion and domestic violence as well as happy ones like love, pleasure and joy.
THIS IS WHY WE NEED A SEASON THREE @ STARZ EXECUTIVES! We simply cannot wait another 2 years for the next season.
I spoke with Joy, the one and only host of the P-Valley podcast located on Spotify about what drew her to the show. I’ve been listening to her for 2 years, she continued her podcast even when the show was off-air discussing potential spoilers, other Black TV (Amazon Prime’s, Harlem) and pop culture events.
I was inspired by the way Joy spoke about the show as she called it both “groundbreaking and entertaining.” The insightful and hilarious podcaster has her finger on the pulse of Black entertainment Twitter so to speak, she expressed that she has a feeling viewers are attracted to the show because of its catchy songs, relatable humor and unpredictable stories.
I wondered as a super-fan of sorts, what initially drew her to the show:
“At first glance, I watched P-Valley because it has a catchy name and I wanted to learn more about the deep South. I stayed for the stories: Hailey was fleeing an abusive ex, Keyshawn is dating an abusive man, Uncle Clifford is trying to find love, Mercedes wants to become a business owner... We have so much more to learn about Southern culture and black strip clubs on future seasons of Starz's hit show.”
I couldn’t agree more, the storytelling is top tier and centering the stories around The Pynk show how the club is more than a club, it is a Black gathering place like the beauty salon or barbershop, it is also place of resistance and most importantly a place where anyone is free and safe to be themselves.
Joy continued to explain her admiration for the STARZ hit show by exposing how it explores topics considered taboo, “… [it] pushes the envelope with its same sex love scenes and forces viewers to accept Lil Murda and Uncle Clifford. Through these characters, viewers are left wondering if they're accepting of the Uncle Cliffords and Lil Murdas that they personally know.”
Here she unpacks the way the show pushes boundaries in a Black community in the religious Deep South. Hall, and actors Anaan and J. Alphonse Nicholson’s tell a Black queer love story for the ages, weaving in the stigma of being a Black gay man while showing that love is love and it’s beautiful. Love scenes between Lil Murda and his partners caused quite an uproar on Twitter as users, mostly Black heterosexual men argued for a “warning” before love scenes.
Anaan, responded to the hate on King’s podcast exclaiming “It doesn’t surprise me. That is a part of human nature and what humans do, you get feel uncomfortable with something you gotta try to make fun of it, or talk about it. It ruffles your feathers.
He continued, “… to that I say, Congratulations! That is what art is supposed to do. Art is supposed to create conversation, art is supposed to stir up the pot, it’s supposed to be reflective… we are really striving to be real.” Joy captured the Twitter conversation about the men while also emphasizing the importance of seeing real, new love stories.
The podcaster said that prominent season 2 celebrity guests like “Megan Thee Stallion and Joseline, coupled with fans like Cardi B and comic Sam Jay, P-Valley will continue to set Twitter on fire each Saturday and Sunday night that it airs.”
I agreed with Joy as she said P-Valley just keeps getting better as it has become must-see TV. I’d argue that the way that Hall and the writers aim to expose the intersectional lives of Black women and Black LGBTQ+ characters allows viewers to confront their own understanding of social consciousness in America.
We need a season 3 STARZ! For the culture! We’ll wait a little bit though and continue to fangirl while listening to Uncle Clifford’s rule #100.75 “A Pot of Hog Maws Gotta Simmer in That Pot All Day In Order To Be Any Damn Good.”
Drew Lovett | Writer Girl |