An insider’s perspective on the unionization of exotic dancers

Filmmaker Julia Query discussed racial inequality, criminal activities and sex work at an on-campus screening of “Live Nude Girls Unite!”

Filmmaker Julia Query discussed racial inequality, criminal activities and sex work at an on-campus screening of “Live Nude Girls Unite!”

When Julia Query combined passion and talent in her 2000 documentary, the results were surprising. “Live Nude Girls Unite!” tells the story of a peep-show establishment, but the film is also laced with a bit of the filmmaker’s own stand-up comedy.

On Sept. 30, Temple’s women’s studies program screened the film, which was conceived, co-directed, written, edited and stars Query. The film, which depicts the movement of exotic dancers at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco to unionize, gained multiple awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Ten years after the making of the film, the comedian-dancer-director is now a psychotherapist and writer who lives in San Francisco. In a question-and-answer session that followed the Main Campus screening, Query’s artistry and wisdom showed through her enthusiastic personality as she spoke to students about the film.

Query responded with no shame when asked about the editing of interviews and lack of objectivity in the film.

“I wanted [the audience] to see my film the way I constructed it. [In any situation,] there can be no complete objectivity or neutrality. If there were, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing,” she said.

Query challenged the audience to ask her difficult questions, and she encouraged students to follow their passions and to work a bit each day on the skills required for those passions.

Her film, shot much like a rough home video, is a personal story: Query, who was a dancer at the Lusty Lady at the time, was able to secure intimate footage of the lives of the dancers from an insider’s perspective.

Query, who always wanted to be a filmmaker, said the entire idea of the documentary came rushing to her at once. The only aspect she didn’t originally plan to include in the film, she said, was coming out to her mother, who runs a program to assist prostitutes in crises, about her occupation.

The film broke many conventions of the exotic dancer. Many women in the film explained that sex work gave them a sense of empowerment. Others explained that it felt demeaning to be dancing naked for a group of strangers.

With its chronological story line, “Live Nude Girls Unite!” shows audiences the life of dancers and the struggles they faced, such as racism in the workplace (only one woman of color was allowed to dance at a time, resulting in less shifts for darker-skinned women) and customers who would come in to illegally videotape the dancers and would later post the videos online, which management did nothing about.

This lack of action by the managers, many of whom were female, was the final straw, Query said. From this point, the film dives into their struggles to unionize and complete contract negotiations, which paved the path for unionization of the sex industry in the United States.

Matt Flocco can be reached at

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