Live Nude Girls (2000)

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I doubt you think “union organizer” when you hear stripper. When you think of stripper you probably think of breast implants, drug addiction, exploitation, slutty, uneducated, lap dancing and so on. The stereotypes of stripping aren’t exactly positive. But if you watch the Live Nude Girls Unite you just might be surprised.

Narrated by Julia Query and filmed by Vicky Funari, Live Nude Girls Unite tells us about the long journey Ms. Query and her fellow strippers took trying to unionize the Lusty Lady, a strip club in San Francisco. Just like any other working person, the strippers wanted fair wages, health insurance and progressive work policies. However, they were often seen as dirty girls who deserved their bad lot in life.

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But Query and her fellow strippers to not let prejudice and stereotypes deter them. Nor do they get discouraged when Lusty Lady’s management tells them they’re not working “real jobs.” But just like working in an office or in a factory, stripping for 10 hours a day is work. Yet there is this idea that sex workers do their jobs because they enjoy it, not because they are trying to get paid. Perhaps earning a paycheck isn’t as sexy to the customers.

Some of Query’s fellow strippers strip because it gives them the flexibility to raise their families or because they are in school. Sometimes they strip to earn extra income. Query strips simply to make ends meet. She’s a lesbian, a feminist, a grad school dropout, a stand-up comic and a nice Jewish girl. Her mother happens to be Dr. Julia Wallace, an advocate for sex workers. During one moment in the film we see a segment from 20/20 where Barbara Walters accompanies Dr. Wallace as she passes out condoms and counsels prostitutes in New York City.

Live Nude Girls Unite shows the strippers’ working conditions, and informs the viewers why they decided to unionize. A couple of non-strippers who work at the club join the unionizing efforts. The film shows them meeting with lawyers and union organizers, and negotiating their contract, which was not a simple task. We also get to see the workers picketing the Lusty Lady with the hilarious chant “2, 4, 6, 8, don’t go in to masturbate.” Working to unionize the Lusty Lady was difficult and at times the workers were disappointed, but they refused to back down, and their tenacity is inspiring.

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Live Nude Girls Unite also shows a very personal side. Despite working to unionize the strip club, Ms. Query has yet to inform her mom of her job. It is one thing for Dr. Wallace to pass out condoms to hookers, it’s quite another to find out your daughter is a stripper. Dr. Wallace reacts in a way we expect any mother to react, and for a while she and her daughter were estranged.

Made on a G-string budget, Live Nude Girls Unite lacks the polish of other documentaries, but that’s part of its charm. It is honest and gritty, and you really do find yourself cheering the strippers on. Live Nude Girls Unite whether you work a job where you keep your clothes on or strip down to your birthday suit, you deserve a workplace that is fair and just.

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Filmmakers Vicky Funari and Julia Query

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