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Uncle Clifford is changing the game on P-Valley.
There are very few characters like Uncle Clifford. The bold, always stylish owner of the Pynk is a powerful mover in Chucalissa and one of the most dynamic and unique characters currently on television. Created by Katori Hall and played flawlessly by Nicco Annan, the P-Valley breakout character is entertaining and trailblazing in equal measure.
The P-Valley journey began in 2009 when Hall started writing the play as part of a playwriting group in New York City. Hall shares that she invited Annan to her apartment to read the first four pages before she even shared it with the group. "He literally has been a part of this process from the first pages," she says. From the beginning, Uncle Clifford's pride in herself and love for the girls at the club stood out to Annan.
While the character initially existed on the page as a person in transition, Uncle Clifford's being non-binary revealed itself to Hall over time. That version of the character turned out to be perfect for Annan. "I wanted to create a role that fit his skin," Hall says. "[Nicco] has equal access to both the feminine and masculine side of him."
Hall and Annan's partnership has resulted in the Uncle Clifford we have grown to love on the show — a character whose refusal to mold herself to make other people more comfortable is a meaningful representation on screen. "Uncle Clifford shows the world, the haters and the supporters, that you can say what you want to say about me, you can feel uncomfortable, but I'm gonna be my damn self. She shows all of us a way of walking authentically in the world," Hall says, citing Sheriff Bailey's (Steve Coulter) agreeing to use her proper pronouns as an example. "Uncle Clifford, she's fictional, but she's still so real to so many of us."
Hall remembers seeing her play Pussy Valley in 2015 and thinking the character shouldn't just live on stage. "I [wanted] Uncle Clifford to be in people's living rooms, in people's bedrooms, to live and [grow] with people because I know that long-form television allows for us to get to know these fictional characters better to the point where they feel so real," Hall says.
It's not lost on Annan how Uncle Clifford has been embraced by P-Valley audiences, and he still marvels at the impact the character has on people (he remembers a man who worked on the first season telling him that if he'd seen someone like Uncle Clifford, he would not have attempted suicide). "It has been a wild, magnificent ride," Annan says. "I knew that I had an opportunity being on camera to show people who may not encounter non-binary people or other people along the LGBTQ+ spectrum in their lives. We work, we pray, we cry, we have families just like everyone else."
While Uncle Clifford didn't change from stage to screen, her portrayal on television allows viewers to spend more time with her and explore more of her relationships, including that with her grandmother Earnestine (Loretta Devine).
Telling an intergenerational story on P-Valley is exciting to Annan. It's no secret that the world is inching its way to a more accepting place; seeing Earnestine love her non-binary grandchild provides context about a generation that wasn't using the word "non-binary." By simply living in this character's life, viewers get to see more about how her worldview is both similar to and different from their own.
While non-binary representation may still be new, it doesn't mean that non-binary people haven't existed until now. "There are Uncle Clifford[s] all across the South. We have Uncle Clifford in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, and yet there hasn't been a show that has centered a character like that for so many different reasons," Hall says. Historically, stories centering queer characters — specifically Black queer characters — have not been seen as economically viable by networks. But times are changing, and Hall hopes to see even more representation in the future. Having up-and-coming artists and writers see the possibilities through Uncle Clifford to create their own stories that mirror their lives and the world we live in is something she is also hopeful for.
Uncle Clifford is humanizing people that have been dehumanized in society, which is something that Hall aims to do with P-Valley overall. The show is an entertaining tool for social change between Black queer folks and Black female sex workers. "Yes, the show was fun, and we love the glitter, and the one-liners are great, but at the end of the day, all these people are human beings, and I want everyone to learn that these people are just like them," Hall says.
P-Valley and its characters simply existing feels like a revolutionary act to Annan. "There are a lot of people who may have looked past Uncle Clifford in life, or look past Mercedes in life, or, or people like Lil Murda, or even underestimate women that look like Autumn Night," he says. "Through this show, you get to see them. People just taking the time to ask what your pronouns are or how you care to identify is a beautiful thing, and something that can only bring more compassion to us as a society and culture."
P-Valley airs Sundays on Starz.
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