‘Hot Girls Wanted’ Shames And Further Stigmatizes The Porn Workers It Depicts

06.01.15 2 years ago 44 Comments
HotGirlsWanted-Netflix

Netflix

THE ADULT FILM MINUTE: Once per month, except for occasionally when it’s more frequent than that, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals will be telling us a little bit about what’s going on in adult entertainment and why it should matter to you.

Hot Girls Wanted debuted on Netflix last Friday (5/29). According to the blurb on the screen, this is what it’s about:

This 2015 Sundance Film Festival breakout documentary from producer Rashida Jones spotlights the “amateur” porn industry and the women it exploits.

“…and the women it exploits.”

Hot Girls Wanted follows, to varying degrees, a handful of young women as they navigate the South Florida “pro-am” (professionally produced, lower budget content shot with new or “amateur” performers) porn scene. Each of whom got into the adult industry by responding to Craigslist ads.

There’s Tressa, who’s 19 and from New Braunfels, TX, with one month working pro-am, and Rachel, who’s 18 and from Oswego, IL, with a week and a half in. There’s also Jade, who’s 25 and from Tampa, FL, with two years in and out of the business (Is she still an “amateur”?), along with a handful of others. The ladies live together in a model house owned by their agent, Riley, who’s 23. They pay Riley rent, as well as a 10% cut from the work they book via his agency, Hussie Models.

And we all watch as a version of their truths unfolds…

Hot Girls Wanted attempts to explain one extremely mysterious and complex corner of an extremely mysterious and complex industry – one that everyone loves to marginalize, including the filmmakers. The film showcases the negative, sensationalizes the unfamiliar, and sidelines the positive. It brandishes unsubstantiated and currently unknowable factoids about web traffic (more visits to porn sites than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined?), the overall net worth of various production companies (the top three pro-am sites are worth an estimated $50 million?), and more (some dubious figures about scene rates). It value-judges sexual expression inconsistent with the “correct” and “acceptable” versions it espouses. On just about every level, Hot Girls Wanted is over-generalized, anti-sex work, anti-porn propaganda (and I’m not the first one to have said as much).

Despite this general air of sensational bullsh*t, Hot Girls Wanted did have some poignant moments.

The ladies’ reactions to the Belle Knox “Duke Porn Star” juggernaut and their discussions of sex ed. When Rachel scoffs at the idea of working a low wage job in her hometown and when Tressa breaks down while talking with her mom and boyfriend. When Jade describes how her perspective has evolved as she’s matured and when Karly (19) talks about sex IRL as compared to how porn sex makes her feel. There were moments in the film, opportunities wherein, if they’d actually wanted to, the filmmakers could’ve done some good.

As a sociologist who knows a bit about this stuff, here are some useful things I think Hot Girls Wanted could’ve done, but didn’t.

1. Looked at sex worker shaming

Sex work is a thing many people choose to do. Sex work is also a thing that many people choose to do only to subsequently realize that it’s not for them – just like Tressa and Rachel do. And sex work is a thing that just about every single sex worker is shamed for – just like what we see happening to Tressa. Hot Girls Wanted could have spent some time trying to figure out why. Instead, it does the opposite. It highlights the apologetic, shame-filled women, while dumbing down and doubting those who currently enjoy their work. Only Jade is permitted to speak her mind – at times ambivalent and at other times totally contrary to the film’s overall mission – without being made to look a fool.

2. Looked at “Insta-fame”

Some iteration of “We’re gonna be famous!” is squealed multiple times near the beginning of the film. Hot Girls Wanted could’ve unpacked that, the idea of what fame means in 2015, and how it relates to being sexualized (dissertation topic idea, grad students!). Instead, it flashes up pictures of Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, and 50 Shades of Grey. Instead, it’s going on a press tour.

3a. Looked at porn as an interactive and synergistic component of wider society

Hot Girls Wanted, like so many narratives before it and likely like gazillions to come, implies that porn is responsible for many wider social ills – from the commodified hyper-sexualization of young women to the “risky” and/or “degrading” sex behaviors plaguing humanity today. It’s porn’s fault. Porn did it!

Porn, like every other human-social entity, is both an artifact and a component of wider society. It’s a complex product of what we, as a collective group of humans, are. As such, what does the reflection of humanity we see in the cultural mirror of porn say about us? That query is generally too uncomfortable to engage, so instead we gobble up narratives like Hot Girls Wanted – ones that give porn all the power and paint us as passive victims.

3b. Compared porn to other industries

Hot Girls Wanted could’ve explored the similarities between porn and other industries – industries that rely on body work and every type of media. Industries that are very competitive, where few people “make it,” and stigmatized occupations, as well as jobs wherein the vast majority of workers have very short shelf lives, etc. But why would you watch a film about porn and construction workers, porn and professional fighters, porn and musicians, or porn and lawyers when you can gawk at *exploited teens* instead? This, incidentally, makes Hot Girls Wanted at least kinda guilty of precisely the thing it’s criticizing.

And there’s so much more…

Though not one single woman profiled in Hot Girls Wanted was “cornered” into porn because of financial dire straits, the filmmakers could’ve engaged issues related to economic opportunity and career building, as well as gender inequalities and privilege. They could’ve talked about how some young women’s wants and needs are still – now, today, in 20motherf*cking15! – shaped by the desires of others – their parents, their boyfriends, their boyfriends’ friends, even random photographers. And they could have talked about how they themselves infantilized every single adult-aged “girl” (which is also coincident with porn parlance, as is “boy”) in this film.

There’s so much to say about porn. It’s vast, diverse, and complex. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. And it’s far from perfect or pretty. But does that make it an anomaly in society or a microcosm?

As a product and as a component of wider society, porn needs an informed critical eye. Hot Girls Wanted is not it. I wish the film had moved us even a baby step closer to complicating the conversation, especially given its potential reach. But it didn’t. Instead, feel free to put it on the shelf next to Reefer Madness and Red Asphalt, right where it belongs – “Tell your children!”

Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media and technology, and popular culture. Her book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment comes out this July. Team #pinkbanana

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