Don’t Hate: Strippers Fight the Government- review

Don’t Hate: Strippers Fight the Government- review


Directed by Jimmy Bell

I admit it. My interest in reviewing this documentary is based entirely on the title. It’s called, “Don’t Hate: Strippers Fight the Government.”

My interest only piqued after learning that the strippers in question are Black male exotic dancers with personalities as large as their genitals. That’s a fair statement, given how much screentime is given to showcasing the dancers’ larger-than-life personalities and their larger-than-a-toddler’s-arm genitals. What we get woefully little of is the actual court case that is the supposed impetus for this film.

In 2006, a Maryland county wagged its finger and passed an ordinance restricting how exotic dancers can receive tips from patrons, effectively putting the dancers out of business. The dancers hired lawyer Jimmy Bell to represent their case.

Bell, who also directed the documentary, described the case in publicity materials as “Black Male Exotic Dancers who stood up and fought the government in federal court with a Black lawyer and won!”

It does and it doesn’t. The film succeeds as a study of a thriving minority business featuring Black strippers performing for a Black clientele. The club is a model of how minority businesses succeed when the community invests its hard-earned dollars back into itself. And the dancers come off as savvy entrepreneurs, providing good clean raunchy entertainment to throngs of fawning females. It’s a win/win all around.

But where are the uptight White people trying to shut the club down? That is, where are the Haters? The film would make a stronger case for itself if it managed to pan away from the generous genitals of its eponymous strippers to show even one dissenter. Was the ordinance a show of prurience, a misguided attempt to curb prostitution, or was it, as the film’s publicity material want us to believe, buoyed by a history of suppressing minorities through economic control? The film doesn’t go there.

I’m not really complaining. I was too mesmerized by the gyratingstrippers and the adorable interviews with their female fans, including some horny grandmas, to form any coherent critique.

We get a lot of interviews with the strippers in their homes, surrounded by children and girlfriends. But after a while it’s like, I get it, strippers are people, too. That’s a level of understanding I could’ve gotten by watching any random episode of HBO’s “Real Sex.”

Again, that’s a small complaint. The dancers are charismatic as all hell, with bodies that will haunt you in your dreams. And man, these dudes can dance! I kept wanting to throw dollar bills at the screen.

The one thing I do take issue with is the film’s and the subjects’ blatant homophobia. Every few minutes the film stops to remind us that these hyper-butch strippers don’t dance for other men, and that they certainly themselves are not, nor have ever been, gay.

Come on, boys. A lot of male fans of your genitalia are gonna be watching and supporting this movie, so learn to say thank you at the very least.

I have no idea if this film will ever make it into theaters or into DVD release. In the meantime, the trailer is posted on Youtube:

The dancers did win their case and this film has an infectious joy and good-natured self-congratulation about it. I’ll assume everyone’s invited to the celebration party, even the gays.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."