Students surprised with special Zoom guest from the show ‘P-Valley’

Cherokee Hall shares her experiences with students who are taking a course that explores the Black female voice in television and blends pop culture with real-world issues and problems.

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Grace Gipson, Ph.D., recently surprised students in her course, Say Her Name: Humanizing the Black Female Voice in Television, when actress Cherokee Hall who plays Extra Extra in the show “P-Valley” talked with the class over Zoom.

“My students had no idea this was going to be happening that day,” said Gipson, assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

An American drama created by Katori Hall, the Starz television series “P-Valley” revolves around people who work at a strip club in the Mississippi Delta.

“In ‘P-Valley’ they are looking at the exotic dance culture as well as body imagery and beauty standards,” said Gipson, whose research focuses on the representation of race and gender, particularly of Black women, in pop culture. “It’s a very layered series. It also looks at gentrification and African American religion.”

Gipson’s sorority sister made the introduction to Hall, who was ecstatic about talking to the class, Gipson said.

The image of six people on a zoom call and an the logo for the TV show \"P-Valley\"
Cherokee Hall, who plays Extra Extra in the show “P-Valley,” talked with students over Zoom about the show and her experiences as an actress. (Courtesy of Grace Gipson)

“She said, ‘I want to do this,’ and it went from there. She is one of the regular dancers on the series, which looks at exotic dancing. Before Cherokee got on the show, she was an exotic dancer, so she is able to make the character authentic,” Gipson said, adding that Hall is also one of singer Usher’s dancers on “Usher: The Vegas Residency.”

Students talked with the actress about how she landed the part and her own experience as a dancer.

“She told the class that being on the series has changed people’s thoughts about her,” Gipson said. “We talked about behind-the-scenes moments and what will be happening on the next season of the show."

Students got to look beyond the boundaries of just watching the show, she said.

“They talked about things on the show they could relate to,” Gipson said. “Hearing Cherokee’s story was inspiring and motivating for the students.”

“P-Valley” is one of the three shows that Gipson examines closely in the course. Students also study the HBO shows “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and “I May Destroy You.”

“Each of the shows comes from a Black woman’s perspective,” Gipson said. “They each bring a different genre and different topics.”

It’s important to Gipson that the course engages with what’s happening in the world. The representation of Black female actors and the characters they take on has always been essential to the success of television as a medium,” she said.

“However, Hollywood is not quick to showcase, celebrate, and even hire them. Television has made strides, but it has been inconsistent and slow moving,” she said, adding that many of the women whose work the course studies are breaking barriers and re-setting television culture. “I want students to see how television and film are a way to tackle issues and problems.”