Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday Movie Review: Live Nude Girls, Unite!

Julia Query's documentary on the unionization of San Francisco's peep show strip club, The Lusty Lady. The documentary chronicles not only the amazing struggle of the dancers to win rights such as sick days, equal hours for women of color, and guaranteed wage rights, but also the personal development of Julia Query.

Query went to San Francisco, as she stated in the documentary, to be a writer and a stand up comic. She is the daughter of Dr. Joyce Wallace, activist for prostitution rights. Query unflaggingly documents her fear of informing her mother that she stripped for a living -- through clips of her stand up show, by integrating the struggle into her account of the union struggle, and finally through a confrontation with her mother at the end of the documentary.

The documentary is an eye opener. It gives a realistic and understanding account of the problems that plague strip clubs and sex work, without either demonizing the employees of the strip clubs, or making them seem heroic in some way -- both lights seem to a problem that plague feminist interpretations of sex work. By focusing the documentary on what it set out to examine -- the working conditions and internal working problems of The Lusty Lady -- and by not making the employers and owners seem demonic or the workers seem idiotic or victims, the documentary ends up feeling more authentic.

Most enlightening were the accounts of the employment habits of strip club owners. Julia Query shows that many owners do not schedule women of color for as many shifts. In the case of her club, which is a peep show club, women of color were not scheduled at all for the private show booth. The employers said it was because women of color were not as marketable. Women with darker hair, darker skin, or anyone else who was not blond or light skin was labeled as "dark and exotic". Being labeled "dark and exotic" meant fewer scheduling hours. This makes sense, because something that is exotic won't be exotic for long if you put a large number of exotics in the same place. Another problem plaguing workers was stage fees. A stripper would be charged by the owners a certain amount to work the floor, and was made to account for their tips as they left. Women who did not make the quota of tips were in danger of losing their jobs.

Working conditions became worse and worse, and violence became more frequent in clubs. Dancers were blamed for violent acts that the customers were preforming, and management did nothing to ensure the safety of the dancers.

The documentary shows how more and more dancers are unionizing their strip clubs, mirroring the efforts made by The Lusty Lady. Rights are being won such as better hours, better wages, and sick days. But the widespread corruption and harsh treatment of the dancers chronicled in Julia Query's documentary is heartbreaking. It is a reminder that workers in the sex industry are often forgotten or written off.

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