In March 2018, we collaborated with the Nohell collective on International Women’s Rights Day. We organized a series of screenings on the theme of the body, including the docu series Power of Pussy (P.OP.) produced by Christmas In July 1982. This documentary is an overview of the world of stripping, highlighting the reality of women in the industry. They aren’t all impressionable girls controlled by men, as the famous Gigi Maguire, who is interviewed throughout the documentary, explains very well. They are “entertainers”, they are there to do a show! A few weeks after screening P.O.P., we finally managed to organize a skype call with the two creators of Christmas In July 1982, KarynRose Bruyning and Artemus Jenkins.
What are the usual reactions of people watching P.O.P?
KarynRose Bruyning: Generally a mix. Some people are greatly offended, some people expected it to show way more sex because of whatever they think it’s supposed to be, some people find it to be very informative… It’s alway a mix, no one ever says the same thing.
Artemus Jenkins: Some people find it very empowering also.
Why did you choose strippers, why this world?
Artemus: Well, I’ve been part of the music industry for about 17 years and I used to do strip promotion, which involved me spending a lot of time in the strip club. After I got bored just looking at the women, I started talking to them and then I just thought, well maybe other people mind find it interesting to hear things other than “can you take your clothes off” for these women. That idea evolved into something that would give people a different perspective. I found out that there was a deeper side to them as human beings so I figured other people might be curious.
KarynRose: Also, in hip-hop American culture, strip clubs determine whether your record matters or not. These women really determine whether your album is a hit or not because they’ll request it, and they will get the crowd’s response to it. For a group of women to have that kind of power and nobody to really recognize it is wrong. And they don’t understand even how big of a deal that is. But people in entertainment know. And I think it’s always important to really show the power of women in this industry. And so, definitely, strip club culture is impressive, because the conversations I generally have with men after showing P.O.P is the fact that there is this world of fantasy that is created which you pay a lot of money for, and so the women are in control in many ways.
Did the series change your perspective?
Artemus: Me personally, I’ve got to say no. Because if anything, I was moving to update other people’s perceptions to at least where mine was. I learned a lot more personally about people who I already knew and in addition I met some new people, so my knowledge of the culture was increased. I was just already in a place where I didn’t have a misunderstanding on the type of people they were or why they chose the career that they chose. So my perception was pretty much the same but my knowledge increased.
KarynRose: I have the fortune of having been born woman so I get it. I’ve understood the power of pussy, I was born with it, so no, my perspective didn’t change, I was just like, “You see? We run everything, you’re welcome”.
When you were filming, did you try pole dancing?
KarynRose: Every time I see it it’s like magic to me, especially when you see, in episode 2, the things that the Snack Pack does… These women are pure artists, there’s no way I can even think about doing any of these things. I’ll leave that to the pros.
Where did you meet Gigi Maguire?
Artemus: I met her at Magic City, a couple years before I actually shot the documentary. The relationship with the women at any club is really familiar, they’re like your friends. You don’t always see them out during the daytime just based off their hours, but it’s not uncommon in Atlanta to go out to a bar and see Gigi or Cali, just out doing people stuff, just the same as you would be. At the time I was doing more music videos as a director, and if the video called for women with those kind of talents then I could hit up Gigi and be like “Yo, I need 3 or 4 girls and this would be money that y’all don’t have to take your clothes off for”. We built a personal relationship like that, like I said, I was just looking at them like people, who you would have do things like other people.
So you saw a transition from “stripper” to studio owner?
Artemus: Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t maybe see the whole progression, I updated in pieces. The scenes where I show her last dance, that happened a year before I actually shot the whole documentary. I was never a frequent strip club goer outside of work so I’d come back and I wouldn’t see her and then get an update on her life. Then you just kinda catch up with old friends.
Did you know Cali before as well?
Artemus: No, that was just serendipity. I came to do interviews based off who I did know already, so that included Gigi, Virgo, Simone and a couple of other girls. I had already let them know that I wanted to interview them but of course they weren’t there at that time. Cali worked day shifts like a lot of the new girls, and nobody else was there so the manager Mikey was just like “well, you wanna interview her?” I was like “sure”, and he said “Cali you wanna do this interview?” and she said “aight!”
KarynRose: And she’s been working with us ever since.
You’ve worked on another series with her, how did that happen?
KarynRose: Before she moved to Atlanta she had a theatre background and so when it was time to do Smoke and Mirrors I was praying to God she could act because I had written the character for her. She went on to do both seasons of Smoke and Mirrors and she’s also in our films Decisions While Impaired (D.W.I.) and Perception. So yeah, she’s been working with us for a while as she’s transitioning to more acting and modeling. She has actually since left the club.
Artemus: We’re close friends, we just talk all the time.
Do you know about the other girls?
Artemus: I keep up with maybe eight girls. I at least know what’s going on with five of them for sure. We still keep up, check in. Virgo, she’s not at the club anymore.
KarynRose: Virgo and her husband own a custom auto detailing space in Atlanta. And she went on tour with Usher after that actually.
Artemus: She’s a traditionally trained dancer but she’s been out creating her own style based off her talent as an exotic dancer and as a ballet dancer, she’s got things on the side. But her husband can build a car from the ground up so they get some success in that scene, especially when they get these really shiny pretty cars out.
Would you be interested in doing some kind of P.O.P. 2.0? Find them again and see what they are doing today?
KarynRose: That has been a million dollar question for years. We get it probably once every six months now, when we first started it was once every two months. We’ve talked about it and it would have to make quite a bit of sense. People have since moved on, some people are full-time moms now and it was something that they did and are cool with having done but that they don’t want to necessarily revisit. Making a documentary is a lot more work than people give it credit.
KarynRose: The people managing side of documentary work is harder. There’s a phrase that people say: “In a narrative film, the director is god. In a documentary, god is the director”. There are many parts of real life that you don’t have control over because this isn’t like a fiction that you can make up on the fly. If Cali doesn’t want to do it then we can’t shoot her, she’s a real person. That’s the part of documentaries that’s harder because you are keeping up with people’s real lives and have to be sensitive to so much of it, including your own. And what we’re talking about is the little bit of magic that we have with several people in the same place at one time. And when you return to it, especially all of these years later, so much of life has changed for everyone, including us.
Were you ready for that when you decided to work together?
Artemus: No. We just wanted to have fun and make cool stuff. It was a lot of naivety. A lot of what Christmas In July 1982 is now is based off of the 10 years of finding out that things can be difficult. But it’s worth it!
KarynRose: I dont know that I thought things weren’t going to be difficult. I’ve thought i was gonna run a business since like kindergarten. I always knew that it was going to be harder than it looks, but I also thought that one day it would just explode and everything would be different. What I hadn’t counted on what the amount of growing up that we were going to have to do through the process and that we’d have to be more ready for business than business would have to be ready for us. The biggest thing that was surprising is that I didn’t know that P.O.P was going to be such a hit. I tell the story all the time: we would have been happy if maybe 5,000 people watched each episode…
Artemus: So it would have been like 20,000 views total.
KarynRose: Yeah, and so when we got to half a million it was like “holy shit!!!” and then 2 million views later even having this conversation is a little bit surreal. We’re having a conversation about a project that we thought was going to be “eh, just a thing that we did” but it was a dynamo. We were able to get so much more work for ourselves and live off this for a while. This was supposed to be literally the smallest thing and so far it’s been the biggest project that we’ve had. It’s kind of amazing.
Can you tell us the genesis of Christmas In July 1982?
KarynRose: We met in college. We were not friend at first, at all. I did not like him but we were part of a friend group and we always ate breakfast together. He was always kind of there and eventually he grew on me, like a fungus… We went on to be the closest of the group! Fast forward a few years, he was living in Atlanta working with Def Jam, and I was in New York writing a play and working as an artist. We talked on the phone every day because we were best friends now, and he calls me one day and tells me that they’re moving him here. Then he moved and right in the Def Jam office we had this conversation about what it is to start a business. It took us forever to find us a name, that’s why our name is the longest in the world, because everything that we thought of was taken. Everything. So at some point we just jumbled it all together and the rest is the rest.
So where does your name come from?
Artemus: It’s based off our birth months. My birthday is a couple days from christmas, December 23rd, her birthday is in July, and we were both born the same year.
You mentioned a play. Can you tell us about it?
KarynRose: I’ve probably been writing stories since I was 9 years old so I knew I was going to be a storyteller of some kind. I’ve written a play with a friend in college, and then I went to New York and I thought I was going to become an actress but there was nothing particularly interesting to be in so I worked on my own play. I actually produced it in the city for about 3 years, it’s a piece that’s called My Song, The Way I Sing It. It’s about women defining themselves, what the world tells you what to be as a woman and how all of it is bullshit. It’s technically the first Christmas In July 1982 project, it’s the only play thus far.
Are you planning on writing a second one?
KarynRose: I am! This year. I miss theater so much, so this year I’m working on another play and I’m really excited about it. We’re actually working on a film right now, so it’s going to be a busy year for us.