Before gangsta walking on the ceiling, Keyshawn, the Pynk’s resident pretty girl turned It Girl, was a young Black child finding her place in the world. Her life’s been far from perfect but still had the makings of a fairy tale, including a nefarious stepmother, competitive step sisters, and a star-crossed love interest. This theme continues appropriately throughout the episode, because what is Cinderella if not an allegory for the effects of living trapped within the white male gaze?
We’re transported to Keyshawn’s high-school years after her father left her mother for a flight attendant named Chanisse. Now living in Chucalissa with her stepmom and stepsisters, LaRonica and Alisha, teenage Keyshawn tries to adjust to her new high school by trying out for the cheer team. There, she meets Derrick and Gidget, who are already on the squad. Keyshawn doesn’t make the cut (Alisha does, of course) but she still catches Derrick’s attention. The blonde-haired blue-eyed All-American boy rushes to her defense when a football player makes a jab at Keyshawn after declining his advance. A fight ensues between Derrick and the whole team, ending with the Black football players being suspended and Derrick getting detention, even though he initiated the first hit.
The color line is ever-present in the inherited history of the Deep South, and Chucalissa High is no exception. LaRonica explains that as the Black population at the school continued to rise, white parents took it upon themselves to create white-only spaces for their children, thus birthing two different Christmas dances: one at the school with the Black students and the other located on a plantation for the descendants of the antebellum glory days to bask in their whiteness. There’s a clear racial divide, making this flashback feel like it could be from decades prior, with only the rare smartphone or fashion choice (and Derrick’s Prius) pulling us back into the near present.
Colorism, the bastard child of racism, has been discussed on P-Valley since its inception. Though usually reserved for quips and comebacks regarding light-skinned privilege, Keyshawn’s back story attacks the issue in a straightforward and uncomfortably honest way. When Keyshawn ignores the football player trying to hit on her, he responds by saying she looks like a “burnt chicken nugget.” He sexualizes her and then, in the same breath, vilifies her because she won’t submit to his desires, immediately reverting to colorist insults. Later on at home, Keyshawn’s Cinderella story continues as she works on LaRonica’s hair for a pageant and accidentally burns off a section with the flat iron. Chanisse’s response encapsulates the unfortunate mentality that has plagued generations of Black women. She refers to LaRonica’s hair as “the one thing that makes her beautiful” — in front of LaRonica.
A particularly insidious part of racist ideology is how it permeates into the Black community via internalized racism and colorism that strongly mimics the tactics of our oppressors, to the point of us enacting our own indoctrination. Keyshawn’s story especially reflects this: She’s been told by the media, her family, and her peers that her dark skin is not beautiful. Other than Derrick’s parents, and later Derrick himself, we don’t see the few white people she interacts with being racist or prejudiced toward her, at least not outwardly. All of the vocal insults and vitriol regarding her dark skin mostly come from people within her own community whether it be her stepmother or the football player or even Rome lightening her skin in the last episode.
It’s important to keep this dynamic in mind when watching Keyshawn’s story unfold with Derrick. Uncle Clifford’s narration describes their teenage connection as “lust that felt like a sliver of love.” She says they have been following the rule all their lives, the loud yet unspoken rule that little chocolate girls aren’t deserving. When you’ve been told your whole life that you’re not worthy, it’s hard not to cling to your first feelings of desirability and unconditional love. Derrick provided this for her. It didn’t matter that he was white and she was Black; he saw her in a way she hadn’t been seen before: beautiful and ready to be saved. When you don’t know your worth, it’s easier to accept the bare minimum.
Derrick, her Prince Charming, brings Keyshawn to the (white) Christmas dance, and the two end the night losing their virginity to each other. In true fairy-tale fashion, he shows up at her house in the nick of time with a dress and shoes and an invitation to be his date. Their whirlwind romance results in Keyshawn becoming pregnant with their first child, Jaden. Both of their parents kick them out, forcing the two to live together and diverting Derrick from his plans of co-captaining Ole Miss’s cheer team on a full-ride scholarship. Toward the end of her pregnancy, Derrick follows in his father’s footsteps and begins physically abusing Keyshawn, choking her after she expresses disdain for a gift sent from his mother. Keyshawn flees to her father’s house, begging at the door in the pouring rain, just to be turned away by Chanisse, sending her right back into Derrick’s arms.
Now, years later, Keyshawn is on the Dirty Dozen tour, searching for a way to escape her reality at home. The tour stops in Atlanta, and Keyshawn headlines her own “Miss Mississippi Night” sans Murda. Introduced to the stage by Joseline, the Puerto Rican Princess, Mississippi has established herself as a rising star among the upper echelon of strippers turned influencers. Naturally, she kills it. Before heading to Joseline’s suite for a private conversation, the group convenes to count their money and make sleeping arrangements. Rome insists that only he and Keyshawn go to Joseline’s suite, isolating her from the rest of the group. She meets him in his room, finds him in a bathrobe, and is informed that her pending wig deal fell through. Instead, he pitches a stripper heel collaboration, something Keyshawn sees as limiting. She goes to try on the shoe prototype with some floss for the full effect when Rome enters the room and shines a flashlight on her body, with his penis falling out of his robe, propositioning himself. Keyshawn is visibly uncomfortable and rejects him, triggering Rome, who believes sex workers relinquish their autonomy and right to consent because of their profession. But, like Keyshawn points out, a large part of consensual sex work is autonomy because, at the end of the day, she is in full control.
Keyshawn attempts to leave the room as things escalate, only for Rome to become more aggressive. He tells her that he knows Murda’s true sexuality, shows video footage of what’s implied to be Teak and Murda having sex, then proceeds to sexually assault her. She’s able to escape, attacking him before things go further than him ripping her top and forcing her on the bed. She flees to Woddy’s room and explains to him what happened, calling off her participation in the tour’s second leg. Once she returns to Chucalissa, she notices something wrong with Jaden and takes him to the doctor. He’s diagnosed with Nursemaid’s Elbow, which often occurs when someone pulls a small child’s hand or wrist suddenly. Upon further inspection, the doctor finds severe bruising on Jaden’s back, revealing signs of abuse. Derrick, once confronted, admits to hitting their three-year-old child because he has been driving him “insane” for the two weeks that Keyshawn was gone. Two weeks.
Witnessing the cycle of abuse develop now in her own children’s lives, Keyshawn stands up for herself and her kids, resulting in Derrick threatening to burn her with a hot iron. Once again, Keyshawn is abused by the very person who is supposed to protect her. But her white knight comes in an unexpected form: Murda’s manager Woddy. After hearing what happened, he pulls up to Rome’s suite with cocaine offerings to discuss the tour’s future. The coke is laced with fentanyl, a punishment for his assault on Keyshawn, and Woddy talks Rome through his transition, his last sight being Woddy’s wink. When I said the winking game felt ominous, I could’ve never predicted this.
• Aside from Joseline, this episode featured cameos from some of the baddest strippers turned influencers in the game: Gigi Maguire, Jessica Dime, and Miami Tip. P-Valley giving them their flowers is wonderful and well-deserved.
• Keyshawn’s dad and his creepy interactions with Alisha are hard to watch. This entire episode shows how Black girls are failed every day by the world and our own community.
• Murda and Teak’s lover’s quarrel makes things pretty obvious, with both Keyshawn and Woddy starting to sense sexual tension. Woddy and Keyshawn’s telepathic “are they fucking?” conversation was great … do I sense a new love connection?