I am fascinated by the porn industry; not the videos per se, more with the people who have chosen to tow that career path. I like to watch interviews of porn actors, to get into their heads. I would much rather watch them being human than watch them having sex. A lot of people are intrigued by the porn stars, even though they would never admit it. They hide behind insults and bible verses but they are really curious about these people. The fascination stems from its taboo, the fact that it contravenes what society deems to be normal and acceptable, the fact that most people would never do it (or at least think they wouldn’t).
Society is obsessed with sex and is even more obsessed with female sexuality. Society is shaming of women who have conventional sex, so it is not surprising that porn actresses are under heavy scrutiny. It is just mind boggling to most that someone would choose to have sex on camera, it is even more confusing when that person is a woman. Seeking to rationalise this crazy decision, we assume that all porn actresses are damaged in some way. In retaliation, porn actresses defend themselves by speaking about how freeing and empowering porn is for them. Porn is the best thing to have happened to them, they love sex and have never been abused, they have chosen to do this. The argument persists.
This fascination has given birth to a number of documentaries about the porn industry, the latest of which is a Rashida Jones production called Hot Girls Wanted. The documentary looks into the world of amateur porn by following a few girls who have recently joined the industry in Florida. The girls all responded to an ad on craigslist placed by 23 year old amateur porn agent named Riley. Riley is based in Florida and his ad includes a promise of a free flight to Miami. He has a five bedroom apartment in which his models pay rent to live in. He drives his hussies, as the girls are called, to and from their shoots. They live as a big happy family, complete with two dogs. The girls fit the spec of the amateur industry- young, young looking and small bodied.
Contrary to the prevalent stereotype about porn stars, these girls are not (all) damaged. They have different reasons for joining the industry; from a desire to be famous to a need to get out of a small boring town and be independent. We get to see the close knit family of one of the girls who goes by the stage name Stella May. She has parents who love her very much; a mother who is devastated by her daughter’s career and a father who is still in the dark. Her mother is understandably upset that her daughter is having sex for money, and her sadness is compounded by the fact that this daughter was involved in a lot of activities growing up and is good at a lot of things. Despite her pain, not once does the mother yell at her, or make her feel that she was anything less than loved. Stella May has mixed feelings about porn; she likes the money, the travel experience and the independence porn provides, but her heart is not completely into it.
A lot of the documentaries about porn aim at exposing its dark side and tries to prove that all porn stars are damaged and will regret doing porn. I am not really sure what to make of Hot Girls Wanted. It is not a preachy documentary. It also doesn’t look at the entire industry. It was interesting to note that some of these girls are not from bad backgrounds. Some of them are really just searching for something different. They are bored and in need of some excitement. They want to travel. They are drawn in by the seemingly easy money. They want to be the next Kim Kardashian. Porn provides them with a one way ticket out of their dreary lives.
The problem is that some of the girls are naive about the industry. They go in expecting to be rich and famous only to find themselves burned out after three months. They do not anticipate how much work it really is to have sex for money. Three months is the average life span of the average female porn star. The amateur film companies will only shoot a girl a few times after which she will have to accept other roles such as bondage or “forced blowjobs”. If a girl is fortunate she could become a breakout success, or gain enough notoriety to ensure her success. Belle Knox falls into the latter.
Miriam Weeks aka Belle Knox was in the news for a while because she was a student at Duke university who was outed for being a porn star. Belle made lemonade out of lemons and turned the ousting into a media frenzy, going from CNN to The View, talking about how empowering porn is. She waxed love ballads about porn, calling it the best thing to ever happen to her and all that jazz. Whether or not she was being sincere, or if she was just on auto pilot like a lot of porn stars are, is up for debate. The girls in the documentary are not pleased with the attention Belle is getting. According to them, she is just doing what thousands of girls in the industry are doing. They are resentful of her success, possibly because the public attention catapulted her to a high echelon within the industry without her having to put in much work.
One of Belle’s first job in the industry was with the site Facial Abuse, which shoots porn that aims to degrade and humiliate the actress. The actress has to do forced blowjobs (do I have to explain what this means?) while enduring a slew of insults and verbal abuse from the guy with the penis. A censored clip of Belle’s scene with the site is shown. It is pretty graphic to watch, especially after seeing her go on and on about porn as a tool of feminism and empowerment. One of the girls, Ava Kelly, who has been on Latina Abuse, concludes that Belle is one of those girls who did not know what she was getting herself into. Belle has since said that facial abuse was a horrible experience and she regrets doing it.
As the documentary goes on, the girls go from being excited about their independence, to becoming disillusioned with porn. Stella May’s boyfriend goes from being completely okay with her career to telling her she ought to have some respect for herself. Four months after getting into he industry, Stella May quits porn to the happiness and relief of her mother and boyfriend. She moves in with her boyfriend, gets a job and admits to be relieved to be back to her normal life. She finally tells her father about her porn career and he tells her he still loves her, though it will take some time for her to win back his trust.
One of the girls who was most excited about her independence was Rachel, stage name Ava Taylor. She was so impressed by her new life, and she raved about penthouses and Lamborghinis. She didn’t want to have her parents’ life: meet someone in college, get married, have children and live in a boring town for the rest of her life. A few months in and she too is over the industry. Her breaking point comes when she is offered $300 for a blowjob scene which she was happy to do because it is just a blowjob. A few minutes into her scene, she is told the scene is actually a “forced blowjob” scene. Ava Taylor recalls being unsure if she could refuse to do the scene and she says she understands how rape victims feels. She quits the industry and goes back home to focus on her career as a photographer.
Ava Kelly quits the industry to be a webcam girl. At the end of the documentary, only two of the original girls remain in the industry. One of the girls is Lucy Tyler who says while preparing a douche “it can’t be safe to have this much sex. It is crazy that this is my job.”
The documentary ends with eight new girls living in Riley’s house. They are asked why they want to do porn and they reply excitedly: “Sex!” “Money!” “I love sex!”