Hi @netflix where is the button for Please Don’t Show Me Celebrity Documentaries Objectifying My Marginalized Cohort?
— Lorelei Lee (@MissLoreleiLee) April 23, 2017
I want to believe with all my heart that material can be made about sex workers that doesn’t demonize or belittle us. I want to get the same feeling chefs get while watching Chopped or car enthusiasts feel watching Top Gear UK. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is not that feel-good series—there is no perspective through which it is not problematic.
The show eases you into the material in the first episode with living legend producers Suze Randall and her daughter Holly working on photoshoots and erotic film. The episode focuses on their business practices, how they treat the talent, and their issues with male producers. This segment is the only redeeming portion of the show. Savor the mother-daughter bonding and camaraderie; no warm and fuzzy feelings lie ahead.
I could give you a blow-by-blow of the other five episodes, but to be perfectly frank, it’s a waste of time. This docu-series is even more harmful than its predecessor, 2015 documentary film Hot Girls Wanted, which covered amateur porn. Creator Rashida Jones and the other people behind this film are not sex workers. In fact, Jones has a long Twitter history of belittling women and out-right slut shaming other celebrities.
This week’s celeb news takeaway: she who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores
— Rashida Jones (@iamrashidajones) October 19, 2013
The show creators have no experience in sex work and aren’t even close to anyone who uses the sex industry as their main source of income. They use adult film star Lisa Ann as their poster girl, but she has never dealt with stigma the same way transgender performers or performers who are people of color do. In fact, she is apathetic about the plight of more marginalized sex workers.
The series features screen caps of people surfing cam girl sites. Though these cam performers signed up to be on those platforms, they did not sign up to have their identities exposed on a Netflix documentary. When sex workers on Twitter saw this, they exploded in response, and soon tweets by other sex workers roped into the project revealed further outrages: Not only did HGW:TO reveal screen caps; they showed the legal names of other performers; interviewed workers and agents under false pretenses, insisting the material wasn’t for Hot Girls Wanted; and even used interview footage of someone who’d changed their mind about being involved. Lisa Ann has been less than sympathetic about this, stating on Twitter:
Ok Kids… I’m done sharing the fact that “honesty is the best policy” word to the wise, don’t blame others when you get caught in a lie.
— Lisa Ann (@thereallisaann) April 22, 2017
In the same Twitter thread, she goes on to claim that it’s sex workers’ own fault if they get outed, for getting in the sex industry. She naively believes that the only reason one could be hiding one’s identity in the industry is to keep the job from friends and family. There are a gamut of safety and privacy reasons why someone would want to keep their job a secret. In a society where it’s a cultural norm to joke about dead sex workers, one must always be on alert for possible danger. Violence against transgender sex workers of color in particular is astoundingly high. Lisa Ann is not part of any marginalized group, so she feels protected enough to speak as if this isn’t a factor.
Sex workers like Lisa Ann can get a vanilla job out of the industry, not because Lisa is smarter or more equipped, no, but because she is the American standard of beauty and wholesomeness. Being black in the sex industry carries more danger than I care to express. Black sex workers in all facets of this industry do not have the luxury of picking and choosing their rates or clients or productions. In erotic film, we are dialed down to the lowest common denominator—our flesh. We are ebony bodies awaiting few opportunities. We see our fair-skinned counterparts making double or triple what we request. People like Lisa Ann trample on the work organizations like The Free Speech Coalition do to keep adult workplaces diverse.
It’s hard to find agency in a production that did not feature one single woman of color—not one. If there was one included, they were so racially ambiguous no one would even notice them in the crowd of other pale bodies. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On touched on race so briefly that if you went on a bathroom break you missed any discussion of the topic.
It’s irresponsible to exploit sex workers on one hand and then profit off them on the other. It’s irresponsible to only feature the negative aspects of an industry to a world that barely knows anything about us. It’s irresponsible to create a work without extensive knowledge of its subject matter. It’s disgusting to out performers and have zero remorse for doing it.
Not once during this entire endeavor did they list resources, talk to advocacy groups, or talk about anything remotely positive in the industry. They were so focused on finding evil they forgot their subject matter was people—human beings with souls and lives, possibly in need of protection. They must do better; they must be capable of better.
In a fantasy world, I see what a good documentary about sex work could be like. It doesn’t tiptoe around the subject of race. Producers and editors don’t try to tone-police the thoughts and feelings of their participants, and show runners spend time talking to advocacy groups. The people behind the lens are experienced sex workers with a track record for telling authentic stories instead of trying to shock audiences. The film has integrity and no one’s privacy rights get violated. Though there are documentaries out there there that fit this description, there are not enough. Personal storytelling is an intimate and special experience, and making work that alienates your core audience like Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On does is shameful.
Holy wow this is an insightful critique … I haven’t seen the series yet but will keep this analysis in mind. It’s often so easy to take a sensational story, make it big and important and gritty but also with a moralising fairytale subtext about learning lessons and being good and then people go wild for your edgy story that has heart. But this article helps cut through that mythos. Thank you.
As far as documentaries go, what did you think of Whore’s Glory?