Sex, absurdity, and friendship coalesce in Strut, the new six-part series about a group of friends making their way into the sex work industry. When we interviewed the show’s writer, creator, and lead actress Misha Calvert in 2019, she was in the process of pitching the pilot to networks after a host of wins at film festivals and a showing at the Tribeca Film Festival Creators Market. Today, Strut is streaming on Revry, the largest LGBTQ network in the world. Calvert reflects on the often difficult journey to having the show picked up.
“It’s hard when you're trying to sell taboo subject matter, whether it’s taboo for a good reason or not--in this case not,” Calvert said. “I would get comments like: ‘Ooh, edgy.’ ‘Sex work is too ‘out there’ for us.’ ‘Wow, that’s a lot of women in the cast. We already [have a] show about four women. It’s called Girls.’”
Strut does center a group of four women, but to chalk that up to any lack of originality would be a mistake. The eccentric cast of characters includes queer jornalist Lucy (Manini Gupta), dependable best friend Eva (Margaret Judson), wild supermodel Chandaleer (Christina Toth) and finally the personable Eddie--played by Calvert herself--who represents the “nerdy” side of sex work as a porn editor who is still overcoming awkwardness in her body and sexuality. The characters were inspired by Calvert’s mission to create a show which ignores typecasts of women associated with sex work and focuses on humanness instead. Strut opens with a scene of Eddie shoving Cheetos into her mouth mid-editing session and stopping by a mirror to poke at her face and hairline. Later, we’ll see Eddie come into herself more, but this is not without a realistic level of awkwardness (In the episode “USS Vagina,” we watch the friends fangirl over a sexy escort who shows them her bag of toys).
“So often female sexuality and sex work are represented with this darkness and shadow around them, and that simply doesn’t have to be the case,” Calvert said. “Female sexuality can be light and playful and endearing, and it can coexist with female friendship. Most of the female friends I know talk and joke about sex quite a bit--as much as men.”
Allowing space for multidimensional representations of women has been a long and ongoing uphill battle in the industry--one that Calvert reflected has only really taken off in the past five years.
“[The show was picked up] during the period in which TV finally realized that women could finally be characters too,” Calvert said. “It was an extraordinary period. I started making shows because when I started, women were not characters on television.”
Despite the progress made, Calvert cited the control of female sexuality as one of the “last holdouts” in entertainment. She expressed gratitude for artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B for leading the way in challenging norms in the media with the release of “WAP” in 2020.
“As creators, it’s about deprogramming a lot of sexual beliefs. It’s so tough to escape the messaging we get as women and femmes in this world.”
As modeled by the friend group in Strut, women can ultimately rise to empowerment by running their own business in sex work. At the same time, the characters are not written to be impervious to the dangers of the industry. A synopsis of the show on Revry describes the women as “tip-toeing the line between success and oblivion.” Calvert expounded on the meaning behind this.
“The characters go into it quite naively and innocently. I’ve known many people who have done sex work over the years. I would say it’s a high-adrenaline, high-stakes, high-risk job.”
Pulling off a comedy about women who “toe the line” in the sex industry without mischaracterizing the subculture (as put by Calvert: “elevating without sensationalizing”) requires a group of people who are with your vision every step of the way.
“It’s really important to surround yourself with either a strong female producing team,” Calvert said. “Or if you do have to hire men, they have to be feminist. Because otherwise the programming is too strong. It’s so subtle, that’s what sucks about it. It’s not always overt. Be aware if they talk over you, if they say anything along the lines of ‘Wow, is that true? That’s crazy, that didn't happen, did it?’”
Calvert has ambitions of changing the industry, but above all, she envisions a world where she can just exist in it as an equal creator. She makes it clear that content about sex work is not fishing for controversy, despite misperceptions pushed by right-wing media.
“I just want to be funny and tell the truth,” Calvert said of her overarching mission. If Strut preaches a message at all, it’s that sex work doesn’t have to be so serious. It can be funny and light; it can be simple. Calvet as a creator, however, is serious about being in it for the long haul.
“I was developing Strut for three years before we shot,” Calvert said. “It really pays to sit with whatever idea you’re passionate about. And then when it comes to releasing it, don’t be scared. It can be scary as a woman, but I think the world’s ready for it now. The weirder the better.”
Featured image: The ladies of STRUT. Left to right: Eva (Margaret Judson), Lucy (Manini Gupta), Eddie (Misha Calvert), and Chandaleer (Christina Toth). Courtesy of Misha Calvert.