The Atlanta strip club scene is glamorized and fetishized in songs and on reality TV, but there is a dark side to the strippers who work in those clubs.

TV One’s new film, When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story, is based on a true story and marks the feature-length editorial debut for Tasha Smith and stars Lil Mama, Lance Gross and Tami Roman. It leaves us with memorable quotes, sometimes laughable acting and a troubling storyline with a sad ending that is forever in our memory. The TV One original film came into fruition from the network’s For My Man original true crime series, which originally first told Falicia’s story in a one-hour segment. 

It is a fast-moving account of the real-life story following the relationship between Falicia Blakely, a teen mom turned stripper from Atlanta, who dates and falls in love with a pimp, Dino. It is a story that navigates poor choices, absentee parenting, and lack of self-esteem, and like movies such as Precious, this film shows what can happen when home environments fail to raise black women and how communities, collectively, contribute to their downfall. 

For those who tuned into VH1’s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, Lil Mama’s standout performance pleasantly surprised some of her biggest naysayers, turning her into a made-for-TV standout star. This new role made her stretch her boundaries. 

“This role was so important to me because I want to help young women,” Lil Mama told ESSENCE. “In the beginning I was so fearful to play a stripper. I was thinking about myself. I had a talk with my dad. He helped me see it from a selfless light, and to know it is about transforming as an actor. When we had that conversation, it made me dig deeper to understand that this was my opportunity to minister through my art. I had to be very vulnerable to play this role.”

For actress Tasha Smith, who directed the feature-length film which marks her behind-the-camera debut, this story was important to bring to life. “She was a young girl, very vulnerable, didn’t have a lot of love, didn’t have a lot of positive influence, and I feel personally as adults —as mothers, and aunties, and sisters— it’s up to us to influence the young people who are around us and love them, because if we don’t influence them, if we don’t love them, then the street will love them,” Smith said. 

The film’s antagonist Dino, played by Lance Gross, is realistic in showcasing how young women can be manipulated by good looks, charm, money and power —and how women can be completely obtuse to abuse and mental manipulation. 

“A lot of times girls will get in that situation because they’re searching for love. They’re looking for acceptance, they’re looking for some kind of validation. And if you have some con-artist guy that’s a predator that’s looking to manipulate a young girl to utilize her into prostitution or any other things, then they can get caught up in that lifestyle,” Smith said. 

Lil Mama echoes these sentiments. “We have a handsome man playing Dino, Lance Gross, super attractive. People will see Lance the nice guy and connect to how handsome and how attractive he is. This movie is a perfect example of how it happens, because it starts off so nice,” she said. 

Basketball Wives‘ Tami Roman does an incredible job playing a dysfunctional, unengaged mother. As a hands-on mother in real life, the role seemed so seamless for her, as she was convincing, but she notes that she had to completely disconnect to play this role and she offers some advice to parents. “Sometimes the decisions that we make don’t just affect us, they affect our offspring. Stripping is the backdrop for her story,” Roman said.

“When there is no counsel, when there is no communication, when there is no parenting, when there is no presence from a mother or a father, you can succumb to pressures that are in strip clubs, but it’s not necessarily that stripping is a negative thing,” Smith elaborated. 

“We gotta pay more attention to the young people within our community. People think that the devil’s gonna come with the horns but he’s not, he might come in a suit and a good game that he’s talking. When you start dealing with abuse and mental manipulation, you have to recognize it for what it is.”

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