Diablo Cody's Oscar Win Inspires Strippers

Oscar win for Juno screenwriter -- and ex-exotic dancer -- gives hope to others.

Feb. 28, 2008 — -- From now on "Oscar winner" will be the adjective most used to describe "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody, but before Sunday's Hollywood award ceremony her name was always preceded by the words "former stripper."

Soon after "Juno" became a critical and commercial success, the media latched on to Cody's G-string-to-riches story, highlighting her career on the pole and glossing over her career with the pen — she published her first book four years before the film came out.

Strippers are a diverse group of people who dance for a variety of reasons, although almost all of them boil down to money.

Since Cody took home the Academy Award for best original screenplay Sunday night, dancers in clubs and cabarets, bars and brothels across the country have looked to Cody, some hopefully and others less so.

Strippers, strippers will tell you, are not all boobs. They have brains too. And while some see Cody's win as a validation, others are less hopeful that the stripper stereotype will remain unshaken.

At FlashDancers in New York City, a recent conversation sparked by Cody's triumph turned into a lecture on the aspirations of exotic dancers and the power — even in a strip club's dark, booze-stained corners — of the American Dream.

"Just because a girl is a dancer does not mean she can't do anything else," said Morena, a 21-year-old Russian immigrant studying business, who delighted in watching Cody win the Oscar.

"I watched the Oscars and was excited when [Cody] won. There are many talented girls who want to do something else other than dance. I know many girls who need to dance just to afford school. I think it is good for dancers with dreams to see her win this," she said.

Cody — who's real name is Brook Busey-Hunt — isn't the first stripper to transition her skills into the broader entertainment industry. But many dancers with day jobs say that they routinely face prejudices and that Cody's success won't tear down those walls.

"Diablo's win is irrelevant," said Holly, 35, a stand-up comedian and stripper who once danced at New Jersey's Satin Dolls, the inspiration for the Bada Bing club in "The Sopranos."

"I have seen a lot of girls achieve their goals while dancing on the side. I'm glad to see that the media has put her in a positive light, but I doubt it will change things for most women trying to do something else who are always going to be judged for having danced."

Holly, who asked to be identified by her stripper name because she performs as a comic under her real name, does not talk about dancing in her comedy act and says many people don't know how she supplements her income.

"I have had people so repulsed by me when they learn I dance that they refused to shake my hand. There are tons of people in entertainment that have dabbled in dancing here and there, but very often they keep that part of their life a secret."

Holly says she earns a reasonable salary from comedy, but in order to live in New York she must supplement her income with dancing, a job that pays well and lets her set her own hours.

"No," she said, "her win doesn't make me hopeful. And I'm an optimist."

Before "Juno" earned $156 million worldwide at the box office, Cody belonged to a coterie of dancers who blogged about their experiences and hoped for a book deal. Cody's memoir, "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper," was published in 2004.

Cody followed in the stiletto-heeled footsteps of another blogger who calls herself Lily Burana, who recently wrote on her blog, "I can't tell you how excited I am by [Cody] being shot out of the fame cannon and into the dazzling sky," and then goes on to recount how Cody, as a neophyte blogger, sought out Burana for advice.

Joining Burana and Cody in cyberspace was Ruth Fowler, 28, who wrote her blog under the name Mimi Fowler. After arriving in New York in 2005, the Cambridge-educated writer worked as a freelance journalist before she found work in a club, first as a waitress and then as a dancer.

According to Fowler, "2006 was a really bad time for me. I was stripping and waiting for a visa and every stripper I knew was getting a book deal. I had been in touch with Diablo and she gave me some good advice. If she can do it, I thought, I can do it."

Fowler said that Cody's win might create a buzz for memoirs like her "No Man's Land" slated to come out this summer, but she was unsure that was good or bad.

"It gives hope to a lot of these girls looking to write. But the truth is, most of them are s--. I know that's mean, but many are just really annoying. Every stripper has a story, but not all of them should write them down."

Many other strippers, however, know they will never see their name in Hollywood's lights and have resigned themselves to the neon glow of the strip club stage.

"Maybe, one day I'll marry some rich man," said Chanel, a 24-year-old dancer in New York. "But for now, this is my life."

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