In celebration of Juneteenth, STARZ hosted a #TakeTheLead panel at Refinery29 Unbothered’s The Glow Up event in Atlanta, featuring a dynamic conversation between actresses Gail Bean and Psalms Salazar, and hair/makeup artist J. Denelle from STARZ’s P-Valley about their role in amplifying narratives about Black women. Here, we spoke to Gail Bean about her thoughts on Black modern television, her character on P-Valley, and how readers can “take the lead” in their lives.
There’s a changing of the guard happening in Black Hollywood, with a recent crop of buzzy new TV shows that are helmed by Black folks, star Black leads, and tell Black stories. One of them is STARZ’s P-Valley, which takes place in the fictional Mississippi town Chucalissa and follows the lives of Uncle Clifford and the girls of a local strip club as they navigate life’s obstacles in the deep South. If you’ve watched it, then you know that the plot goes beyond shining light on the sex work industry and the artistry of pole dancing — at the heart of P-Valley’s DNA is empowerment through an intersectional lens. It’s a message that one of the show’s newcomers, Gail Bean, says is crucial in telling the kinds of stories that people can relate to.
Prior to taking on the role of Roulette in P-Valley, the actress was best known for her portrayal of Wanda in FX’s Snowfall, as well as a stint in the second season of Issa Rae’s Insecure. But for Bean, it’s less about having a string of hits under her belt, and more about creating content that depicts the vast and wide-ranging facets of Black lives. And while it’s important to showcase Black luxury, the other end of the spectrum — the more realistic portrayals — is just as critical. Because, Bean says, with the power of representation comes a great responsibility to the community.
Keep scrolling to read Bean’s take on the state of Black modern television, what it’s like to work with a female-dominated cast, and what makes her feel empowered in her personal life.
You starred in the FX show Snowfall and now you’ve joined P-Valley for season two. What does working on two of the most popular shows in Black modern television mean to you?
“Our stories are the brainchild of incredibly talented Black creatives. It means inclusion and diversity as well as security. Being a part of these programs means responsibility to my culture and my community. It means I have to do my due diligence so that I do not make a mockery of Black content. I believe it’s important to show we live in multiple intersections. I know we’re in a ‘Black Renaissance’ of showcasing Black families living in luxury, large suburban homes, two-parent households, and excellent jobs. This reality is not the case across the country at this very moment.”
What was your reaction when you got the call to star in P-Valley?
“I was ecstatic. I immediately purchased a pole to practice. I didn’t even know which character I would play, but if I was going to be a dancer, I wanted to be ready.”
You play Roulette, a newcomer to the strip club The Pynk. In your opinion, what does your character bring to the show?
“Fresh, young energy. The dancer that’s often heard, but not seen, intimately that is. Roulette is carefree — not due to immaturity, but from experiencing a loss so great that she’s become numb to all things. She has seen it all. At this point, every day above ground is a bonus, and she’s living her best life — fast.”
On P-Valley, you’ve been working alongside Brandee Evans, Shannon Thornton, and a host of other talented women. What has it been like working with the female-dominated cast?
“It is a different experience. To be led by our showrunner Katori Hall, a Black woman, is wonderful. The most beautiful thing about working with a female-dominant cast is seeing women through an intersectional lens, up close and personal. Each of us is coming to the table with the experience of overcoming different [obstacles] and rising from the ashes to give voice not only to ourselves, but to others whom our characters are rooted in. We uplift and support each other on and off camera.”
Who were your role models growing up?
“My mother, Rita Mitchell. The majority of the women in my family have always been my role models, and they still are — my Brama, my aunt Jere. Additionally, my brothers and father have a huge impact in my life, as well as the men I choose to surround myself with.”
One of the core themes of P-Valley is empowerment. What makes you feel empowered?
“When it comes to my craft, practice. I have to put the work in to feel confident. That’s why I research and prepare so heavily. In regards to what empowers my spirit, my ancestors.”
What advice do you have for others who may feel powerless or who are looking to “take the lead” in their lives?
“To go for it. The biggest thing is having belief in a higher being that guides your actions, thoughts, and words. Do not wait for someone or something. Do everything you can, and once you’ve exhausted all that you could have, pray for more, then keep going. You have to build, even if you’re by yourself, because I promise, they will come.”
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