The Real Story Behind the Viral Strip Club Voting PSA

Jenny Singer
·6 mins read

In “Get Your Booty to the Poll,” a viral PSA video that aims to persuade people to vote, strippers and dancers slide up and down a poll in shimmering thongs and star-spangled bikinis.

Ass cheeks clap as the women talk about ending cash bail, electing justice-minded district attorneys, and voting to better fund schools.

Some called it the greatest campaign ad of all time. But others called the women “tasteless” and “shameful.” Popular tweets theorized that a giant P.R. firm or the Democratic Party must be behind the ad, “using” the women as props.

In fact, the brain behind the ad is Angela Barnes, a filmmaker, native Atlantan, and single mom. She tells Glamour that—far from getting paid to make the ad—she will likely lose money on the project. Moreover, the ad is nonpartisan and crowdfunded. It's accompanied by a simple website that shows users how to get registered and learn about what's on their ballot.

And its participants weren’t lured into some viral marketing scheme for a quick buck. Coy Malone, a dancer in the film, confirms that she has been involved in politics her entire life. She participated in the PSA thinking of her Black male friends who’ve been the target of discrimination or who’ve had nightmarish experiences with law enforcement and now feel too jaded to vote.

“They’re usually the group that’s missed,” she says in an interview. “I know some Black men that have been charged with minor charges, and they’re still qualified voters, but they feel like, ‘Because my voice didn’t matter during these situations, why is it gonna matter if I do something like vote?’”

As Barnes tells it, the purpose of the GOTV effort wasn't to appeal to Twitter. It was made to encourage Black men—one of the most ignored and maligned voter groups—to seize their rights.

In the midst of the pandemic, as closed Atlanta clubs left dancers low on work, at the height of a hot summer of righteous uprising against racist police killings, a group of Black women gathered with a shoestring budget and a G-string theme to move the needle. They took COVID tests, flung red, white, and blue bunting across a stage, and started dancing.

Writer-director Angela Barnes, left, and dancer Imani

Angela-Barnes-Stripper-PSA

Writer-director Angela Barnes, left, and dancer Imani
Courtesy of Get Your Booty To the Poll

Barnes had a simple goal: raise Black voter turnout, in the hope that collective action could bring the values of the Black Lives Matter movement from the streets to the ballot box. Realizing that Black women are as it stands one of the most reliable voting blocs in America, she narrowed her target. Strip clubs are a huge part of Atlanta culture, Barnes reasoned. Most politicians and political parties ignore Black men. “Let me just focus on Atlanta Black men,” she decided; then: “Let me just focus on Atlanta Black men who like strip clubs.”

“I didn’t think every Black person would like it,” she says. “People think of Black people as a monolith, and we’re not.” And as for the charges that the ad degrades women, she disagrees: “To me, using your body for work is the same as a massage therapist or a construction worker using their bodies for work.”

Barnes, who calls herself “a mom first, before I’m a writer or director,” is a Black woman with school-age kids. “I don’t want my kids to worry about being pulled over and murdered because they were reaching for their license and didn’t do it slow enough,” she says. She started the project with one hope: to encourage Black people to vote. There are lots of reasons people don’t vote, she explains—voter suppression, for one, and the fact that focusing on basic needs like just getting food for tomorrow that make it hard to imagine any kind of future.

Of course, voting creates that future. “I am doing what I can to try to make things better for my kids,” Barnes says. “People may think it was a swing and a miss, but I’m swinging. I’m fighting for my kids. I am going to go out swinging.”

Malone, an actor and pole dancer who is featured in the ad, has been thinking like Barnes since she was a little kid. As a child, she lived near Decatur, a beautiful area close to Atlanta with well-funded schools. She went to school in the unincorporated Decatur, a majority Black area that paid more in taxes than it got back in services. “I started to research—how do I get my area incorporated?” she says. “I always thought about—maybe when I’m older, maybe when I build up more knowledge politically, then people would listen to me.”

In the video she hangs upside down along the length of the pole, grinning, and does an imitation—ad-libbed, she says—of the way her male friends talk about voting—“They gon’ pick who they gon’ pick, shawty.” She’s been writing to her elected officials for years. If it takes some elaborate choreography to get people to listen to her, she’s fine with it.

Malone landed in dancing after getting laid off from a tech job. She applied for work bagging groceries or at fast-food spots and was told she was overqualified. (It’s worth noting that “dancing” is not a euphemism—some of the women in the video are dancers, some are strippers.)

To the people who think pole dancing is degrading or worthless, Malone has her response prepared: “I would say to them: ‘Can you lift your own body weight in the air artistically and get paid for it?’ This is on the table as an Olympic sport.” Malone says that there are parts of club life that she doesn’t like, but that the work is misunderstood.

“Some of these women are business owners, some of them homeschool their children; there are so many things they do that are the same as everyone else,” she says. “We are citizens who just happen to entertain at night. I think if people start to understand that we live a life that is considered normal outside of that and see some of the commonalities, some of the stigma would change.”

The fact that the ad targeted an extremely specific group of Black men has made all the difference, she says: “They really started to say, ‘You know what, I didn’t think of it like this.’”

“Some of them didn’t even know that when you vote, you’re selecting D.A.s, sheriffs, judges—these are some of the people that handed the law down to them, that prosecuted them, that ignored them,” she says. “I let them know, ‘When you vote, you can take these people out.’”

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.

Originally Appeared on Glamour