In 2015 Sundance Film Festival screened one of the most interesting and raw documentaries on pornography of the 21st century. Following the 1998 first season of Louis Theoux’s Weird Weekends that included an episode dedicated wholly to both male and female porn actors and then again in 2012 with Louis Theoux: Twighlight of the Porn Stars that remain some of the most famous groundwork done on documentary pornography, Hot Girls Wanted (produced and directed by Jill Bauer and Roanna Gradus) was released three years later. The title, testament to mass billboards and advertisements around America searching for new talent, soon became a household name aggregating an 82% Fresh on RT.
The story followed the lives of several 18-19 year old girls looking to make a break in the porn industry, often times seeking to make quick money or tired of living in their rural hometowns, they join porn agent Riley Reynolds and move to live in Miami to pursue their dreams. The documentary showcases the effects of porn on young women, the substance abuse that often times follows and parental reactions to finding out about their daughters’ whereabouts and doings. One of the main focal points of the documentary was how so many of these girls monetized on their young looks and after they did a couple of videos they would be tossed aside for the new, fresher, girl. Aspects of the business shown such as punishment porn and BDMS are some of the most disturbing and raw, portraying the harrowing and lasting impact it has on amateur porn actresses.
Last Friday, Bauer and Gradus released a whole new, never before seen aspect on porn. One of the main critiques of their previous documentary was that not only it was all known information but also that it only depicted “one side of porn”. Bauer and Gradus venture to fix both those aspects and they do so brilliantly. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On presenting us with feminist porn, a form made for the femme by the femme, the first episode gives us an interesting insight on how the porn demographic is changing towards being a more gender balanced environment. Holly Randall (daughter of Suze Randall, the first female Playboy photographer) and Erika Lust are porn directors who market their work as “high-end” and created for the female gaze. Steadfast in blurring the division between erotica and porn, the two directors make it their mission to create content for the enjoyment of women and end the taboo on pornography. Simultaneously the directors face many challenges, by wanting to depict real intercourse they opt out of using porn actors, which often times hindering their work and the speed in which it gets done. Furthermore, free porn online has completely altered the market, not leaving much space, or revenue, for their high-end products.
The episodes look into a variety of nuanced struggles working in the sex-industry, in this era where everything is digitalized (hence the double entendre Turned On, in the title). The second episode (“Owning It”) portrays Penthouse centerfold Bailey Rayne as a business-savvy entrepreneur who stays on top of her game as the vast majority of her peers fall into serious substance abuse or get carried away by their naiveté. Rayne exposes us to the relatively new aspect of the industry that is camming and porn’s rapid movement towards cybersex. All the episodes, particularly the last one that focuses on Marina Lonina’s periscope rape jail sentence in 2016, which made international headlines, give an important and novel assessment of porn. It continues to cite the many difficulties with living that lifestyle; predominantly it being considered an obscene and improper field whose consequences shadow you for the rest of your life and also due to how the internet has revolutionized sex as a whole. Bauer and Gradus manage to create a more realistic depiction of sex work that encompasses both female empowerment and one of devaluement, the most polarizing issue for women in porn since its existence.