“All those pro-lifers are only pro-life until the baby is born,” jokes Mercedes (Brandee Evans) as she leads her pregnant 14-year-old daughter, Terricka (Azaria Carter), past angry protesters at the only abortion clinic in all of Mississippi. A mob spewing hate and condemnatory prayer while holding Black Lives Matter signs flank an entrance that, to this little black girl, feels like an ocean away. It is an embarrassing walk of hope and until recently a path of choice. On July 6, 2022, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi closed in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationputting a woman’s once constitutional right to abortion in the hands of 50 states.
As lifelike as the vignette above feels, it’s actually a truthful lie – as is all art. Pulled from the July 24 episode of P-valley Titled ‘Jackson’, this scene is a testament to how today’s world can soon become yesterday’s world. “Jackson” follows Mercedes — the headliner of The Pynk’s OG — as she guides her daughter through one of the biggest decisions of her young life. They embark on a road trip from their fictional town of Chucalissa in northern Mississippi to the state capital to attend a consultation at a women’s clinic. Along the way, this mother and daughter couple discuss the options available to them, as they open up old wounds to build a new future. Though never explicitly mentioned on the show, the obvious inspiration was the clinic’s “The Pink House” of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, whose real-life legal battles with the state of Mississippi set the stage for the overthrow of Roe to Wade.
When the P-valley In the writer’s room, which met for the second season at the end of 2020, we collectively took on the mantle of Nina Simone that an artist ‘must reflect time’. We probed and intertwined our reality with the pandemic caused by COVID-19, a virus, which also exposed a more rampant virus of racism and police brutality that continues to plague our nation.
From season one, we looked for a way to tell a story about the limited and restrictive reproductive rights in Mississippi, one of only five states with only one abortion clinic. We felt it was our responsibility to represent the war on the bodies of black women in this conservative state. This season, we’ve explored this complicated and highly emotional issue through the lens of a broken mother-daughter relationship. We learn that as a teenager, Mercedes was forced by her own mother to have Terricka and relinquish custody of her, the source of their fraught bond. Mercedes struggles to give Terricka the gift of choice she was denied.
Like Terricka, I’m a black girl from the south who has learned to keep my legs closed and wait until marriage to have sex. These unrealistic demands of abstinence, coupled with a lack of sex education and rampant reproductive health misinformation result in devastating statistics — Mississippi has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in all of America.
Living this American life in this body, at the intersection of race, class, and gender, can feel like a gift and a burden at the same time. The stories I have within me are plentiful, and I am grateful that as a storyteller I have the platform to create empathy where law and policy have failed. In P-valley we’ve put viewers in the wobbly platforms of strippers as they attack, rise and fall the pole of life as they attempt to crash through distant ceilings imposed by society.
In “Jackson” we put viewers in the sneakers of a little black girl who is faced with a difficult decision. We feel her pounding heart as she passes faces of anger and judgment. We hope people will then understand that this is not an easy decision for any woman or girl. And yet it must be hers to make.
Story has the ability to create compassion and care in hearts sealed off by politics, especially for black and brown women who are disproportionately affected by this legislation. As we enter this precarious next chapter in American history, I call for more storytellers to reflect on these times—the challenges, the truth, and the hope because there is hope. In some ways, Mississippi yesterday may have been a little better for women than today’s Mississippi, but with renewed strife, we can—like Mercedes—keep room for our daughters to make their own choices for their lives in tomorrow’s Mississippi. .
Katori Hall is the creator, executive producer and showrunner of the Starz drama P-valley. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for writing the 2020 play, The Hot Wing King. her game, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, earned a Tony nomination in 2020.