'P.O.P.' Documentary Strips Down Stripper Stereotypes
Director Artemus Jenkins wants to give "voice to the voiceless."
People who go to strip clubs are most likely seeking an escape from reality and to live out a fantasy of some sort. It is the stripper's job to provide that ("hands off") fantasy. But what many don't realize is that even the fantasy providers themselves have a reality to return to when the music stops. Filmmaker Artemus Jenkins' online documentary "P.O.P." takes a beyond-the-pole look into the lives of dancers at the popular Atlanta strip club Magic City. In it, women share their usually ignored stories about everything from how they ended up in the profession to how some have used it to create lucrative businesses.
Loop 21 caught up with Jenkins to explain why he thought this sub-culture was worthy of a look through a different lens.
Loop 21: The title sounds direct and to the point, but tell us how and why you chose to roll with it?
Artemus Jenkins: The title was loosely inspired by the song "Power of the P---Y " by Jay-Z. It was kind of a no-brainer title to me, people do crazy things before, during and after when dealing with p----. The power that strippers command is very poignant due to the fact that they don't have to give you sex to control you, such is the case with women period. I'm sure I could have called it "Power of the Cookie," but since it's the Internet, there is space to be more liberal with titles. Of course there were thoughts about how people would respond to the word; it's just one of those words that slaps you in the face. Knowing the power that just the word itself had, also went into my decision to use it. If somebody walks in a room and just started shouting "p----," with no context behind, people would still start listening for a a few seconds. However, the title doesn't stand just because I wanted to say p---- a whole bunch, I think once the whole piece comes out and people see all the episodes they will understand.
Loop 21: What was your vision/agenda going into filming the documentary?
A.J.: My vision was really to put a voice to the seemingly voiceless. Most of what we see that deals with strippers paints them as victims. Although they have vulnerabilities because of the field they work in, they aren't all helpless or stupid. At the same time, I wanted to share some of what I've noticed over time about the culture and leave it to everyone to possibly paint a new picture or at least add to the one they already have of strippers.
Loop 21: There isn't an overt amount of T&A in the film. Was that by choice?
A.J.: If I felt nudity or a bunch of T&A added to the story I would've put that in there, but I just didn't see the point of it. The objective wasn't to titillate viewers, so why feature spread eagle nude women on stage, while they are trying to talk about their lives. Coincidentally that choice to keep things PG-13 has led to better exposure for the project. I say it's better because if this was a T&A fest it would only be seen by men and consumed for more deviant reasons, nullifying whatever story I was trying to tell.
Loop 21: What was it about these women that warranted a documentary? Did you see their stories poorly executed before? Did you meet one that was interesting? What caused the spark?
A.J.: Any personal project I take on, I would always like to bring light to a culture. In this case, there are two cultures, that of strippers and black people. Black strip culture in my opinion just seems to be more associated with all that is wrong with us as people and with white people. It's not unusual for strippers and/or women in the sex industry to come up, be all they can be and receive praise for it. A lot of the underground parts of our culture are just viewed strictly as taboo, which is some of what I covered in "Color Outside the Lines." Yes people exist that don't go about things the right way, women who sell their bodies and treat strip clubs like the bane of their existence, but those stories have been circulating for years. When I see how a place like Magic City operates, with the respect they get from the city of Atlanta, the standard they demand from their performers, the fact that some of the women do have life after stripping, goals they are working towards -- that's the part we don't hear much about. Black people can feel however they feel about strippers and me making a documentary with half naked women in it or whatever, but if you meet a woman who stripped for over a decade and is now using that knowledge to start a business in a fast-growing sector of fitness in hopes that she won't have to take her clothes off ever again, how can you be mad at that?
Most of the women are interesting in some way or another, not even because they are strippers; as people there are some interesting personalities in there.
Loop 21: Women in the adult industry are often perceived to have "issues" that drive them into that line of work. Did you get that vibe from the women featured?
A.J.: The vibe I get from a lot of them is they really couldn't think of another way to make whatever money they felt they needed. Some of them expressed having hit rock bottom and it became a "fight or flight" situation. Do some of them have "daddy issues," esteem problems? Maybe, but that requires a deeper convo and I'm not trying to expose their psychological issues. That's a documentary for another day perhaps.
Loop 21: Were the women eager to tell their stories and talk about their career?
A.J.: I was lucky to get some very great interviews to start out, [and] it made it easier to continue interviewing others. It became a system of validation through everyone in the locker room, because they all talk at some point. Some like Cali, were just very open from the start. I think her openness had more to do with being secure in her situation than being eager to share, same with Gigi. Then of course the response to the first episode helped as I continued doing more interviews.
Loop 21: Did most of the women strike you as confident, high self-esteem?
A.J.: Magic City is an upper echelon club, so if you can come in there and after a few weeks thrive in that environment, your esteem is bound to get a boost. Like I said about Cali and others, the women are very secure with their decisions, but I would say the women who I meet are building on self-esteem. Many people never really build a high level of self esteem until we get into the mid-, late 20s. For women period, it doesn't matter if you strip or not, female self-esteem is constantly under attack and I imagine being looked at naked for eight hours a day is self-esteem boot camp. If you can build high self-esteem over time in that environment, there isn't s--- ANYBODY can tell you.
Loop 21: What's the biggest misconception/stereotype do you think P.O.P will break?
A.J.: It'd be nice if people came away thinking these women aren't just twerk-tastic, cyborgs from another planet.
Have an opinion about women who strip for a living? Think the movie changes anything? Tell us in the Comments below!