Deep in the heart of Texas, right along the Bible Belt, Dallas is a city with two identities. On one side there is the deeply religious, conservative right-wing community. On the flip side there is the proliferation of strip clubs, with Dallas having one of the highest concentrations of clubs in the country. How is it that a city populated with God-fearing religious folk could also be home to such a huge number of “gentlemen’s clubs”? That paradox is part of what filmmakers Poppy de Villeneuve and Chloe Hall set out to explore with The Dallas Project.
I spoke with Poppy recently to gain some more insight into this documentary. As she explains, there are 500K people employed at strip clubs across America. Despite that, most people still have strong preconceived notions about the kinds of people who work at a strip club: Drug addict, prostitute, slut, etc. Poppy wanted to delve more into the lives of the people who work at strip clubs – not just the women dancing on stage but the men who work behind the scenes as well as women who have transitioned out of the adult entertainment industry. Here’s more of what Poppy had to say about The Dallas Project.
What specifically inspired you to make this film?
I was introduced to a house-mom in a strip club in Dallas. She is the woman who works behind the stage in the locker room making sure the strippers have everything they need. This can be perfume, hairspray, looking after their money or a ride home at the end of a boozy night. The woman I met was incredible and talking to her about these young women and what they do made me really intrigued. I realized I had so many mixed feelings about what these women do, and I wondered about their lives, their sense of power, sexuality and what their home lives were like. I got in my car and drove down to Dallas from Brooklyn. I was met by all these interesting street-wise women – not so different from you or me. Recently lots of questions have been coming up for myself about what it means to be a woman, particularly at work, and this seemed like the perfect environment to discuss some of those musings. Also visually the environment is very arresting.
What changes would you like to see made to the adult entertainment industry?
As far as the changes, I think it’s too early in the filming to say. The one thing I do know at this point which needs to change is our judgment – not because I have a stance on whether stripping is right or wrong, but because I believe you need to know more about people’s individual circumstances. It seems culturally we have some difficulty with difference, but if we could talk about our differences more easily perhaps those differences would be less shameful.
Do strip clubs and religion have to be at odds with each other? Is it really a paradox for someone to work in adult entertainment but lead an otherwise moral life?
I don’t think they do need to be at odds. I personally believe that each individual should be able to have their own relationship with God (whatever that means to them) and they alone know the parameters of that. We have several characters in the film, who have both a healthy relationship with god and the strip club industry, the question is how much of ourselves we are looking at. However, the community that surrounds religion is at odds with the industry itself and many contradictions seem to come up and much anger and fear. Fear is a strange beast that lives in lieu of being about to talk about this environment. There is judgment in both directions and neither is particularly helpful, yet we have also seen much acceptance. Dallas is particularly interesting as there is a high number of strip clubs and churches in a small space, as you can imagine, friction definitely comes up.
One of the documentary subjects mentioned on your website is Josh, a young man who struggles to reconcile his job as a strip club manager with his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. Do you think that the female strippers are held to a higher moral standard than the men who work behind the scenes?
So far it seems like it depends on whether you are talking to a man or a woman on the whole. Straight men talking to a man who works at a strip club give him the big thumbs up but if they are trying to meet a partner and find a secure, supportive relationship with a woman it’s much more complex. Men are struggling just as much as the women because of the calculation someone has already made about them without knowing the full picture. Josh has had the most support through his battle with cancer through the strip club, so many of the people who are directly part of that community have more understanding of what he does and what kind of man he might be.
What was the most shocking thing you learned about the women in your documentary?
That’s a difficult one to answer, and one I think the film will be better at answering than me, as it needs to come from the strippers voices not mine. But one thing that surprised me was how we all want the same things deep down, we just go to different lengths to get them.
Do you think it’s possible to support the workers while not necessarily supporting the adult entertainment industry?
Yes, our character Polly, who has a ministry in Dallas, does an excellent job of this. Support comes in so many ways and seeing people clearly for who they really are and trying not judge is support. Sexually orientated businesses have been around for a long time, it’s time we starting having a dialogue with that, maybe talking about some of the skeletons we all have in our closets and then forming more informed opinions.
Check out more about The Dallas Project here.