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Sin City (2005) and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Sin City 1, via fanpop via huffington post Imagine a city so bleak, so hopeless, so full of darkness, that only criminals and social rejects have a fighting chance to survive living there. Imagine villains so desperate, so foul, so vile, that the ugliest death for them still wouldn’t feel like justice. Now imagine heros who are so full of vice, rage, and demons that they are not much better than our villains. Picture a city that doesn’t have a violent underbelly, because its entirety is a violent underbelly. This is the setting Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have built for us with Sin City and its sequel, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Based on Miller’s comic book series of the same name, the two have constructed a nightmare town that is terrifically gory and hellbent on destroying every person who enters it.

The characters that seem most equipped to survive Sin City are its sex workers. (Spoilers ahead.) 

Whitewashed And Stole: Marsha P. Johnson, Reina Gossett, and David France


On Friday, October 6th, I settled in for a night of Netflix. But this night of Netflix would be epic, because Netflix had just released the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by David France. The film follows the investigation into pioneering sex working black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson’s 1992 death by members of the New York Anti-Violence project. It also chronicles the trial of the murderer of 21-year-old Islan Nettles, a young black trans-woman who was killed on August 17, 2013. After watching the documentary, I grabbed my phone and went on Facebook, and immediately saw a screenshot of a disturbing post on France’s documentary by Reina Gossett on her Instagram.

Reina Gossett is a black trans woman activist and writer as well as the producer of Happy Birthday Marsha. On her Instagram that day, Gossett spilled the tea and accused David France, a white cis-gay man, of using and being inspired by a grant she and Sasha Worzel wrote to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation Social Justice Center for a movie about Johnson—France volunteered at the foundation at the time. Gossett also accused him of plagiarizing their language and stealing their years of research on Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s community organization STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and having her video of Rivera’s revolutionary and mainstream-gay-movement-critical 1973 “ y’all better quiet down” speech at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally removed from Vimeo. Gossett began her Instagram post by writing, “this week while I’m borrowing money to pay my rent, david france is releasing his multimillion dollar netflix deal on marsha p johnson.”

Author and activist Janet Mock hit to Twitter and tweeted out the screenshots of Gossett’s Instagram post. Mock stated that “[f]ilmmaker David France released a Netflix doc Friday about Marsha P. Johnson. It is based on Reina Gossett’s work”. Mock’s tweet garnered 1000s of retweets and likes, as well as a comment by France, which he had to write on an Apple note and screenshot to Twitter. (Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough to explain your white privilege and entitlement.) France also released a further statement responding to Gossett’s Instagram post on The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson website. He states that he was friends with Marsha for a minute and he wanted to do a documentary about her around the time of her death but he had to focus on the AIDS epidemic at the time. He also claims that his work was not stolen from or inspired by Gossett’s research and film making. He goes on to acknowledge his privilege as a white cis gay male.

Meet The Fokkens (2011)

(Screenshot from "Meet the Fokkens")
(Screenshot from Meet the Fokkens)

Meet the Fokkens, a 2011 documentary directed by Gabriëlle Provaas and Rob Schröde, follows the lives of Martine and Louise Fokkens, 69-year-old twins who have spent many years as full service sex workers in Amsterdam’s red light district. At the time of filming, Martine was still working, albeit reluctantly, while Louise had been retired for two years because of her arthritis. Though the documentary’s main focus is the sisters’ careers as prostitutes, we also see their homes, meet their friends, and hear pieces of their personal histories.

In addition to its focus on a fascinating topic, Meet the Fokkens also presents a charming aesthetic experience. The movie involves many scenes of the Fokkens sisters in matching outfits, and at least one of those outfits is primarily pink! Louise brings her Chihuahua with her everywhere she goes. Even if nothing else in this movie caught my attention—which is not the case—the matching outfits and Chihuahua would have been enough to enchant me. But, happily, Meet the Fokkens is as intellectually engaging as it is, well, precious. The film does more than skim the surface—it delves into sexuality and labor through the exploration of the lives of these two women.

Strippers vs. Werewolves 2012

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At the age of five, growing up in in the desert six hours from the nearest town and hospital, I had recurrent nightmares about a hirsute, razor-toothed werewolf with glowing red eyes. I haven’t ever really gotten over those dreams, so at 29, I can still get a little too spooked at all things werebeast. That doesn’t stop me from watching supernatural horror, though.

While engaging in self care, I want to stream and watch something. Sifting through films that I’ve already seen, that I have no interest in, and—what the hell?

Strippers vs. Werewolves? Oh baby! Why has nobody told me about this?

Hustlers (2019)

Ramona teaches pole tricks to Destiny, no licking

It’s been 24 years since Elizabeth Berkley licked the pole in Showgirls and I’m still mad about it, so I understand the mixture of anticipation and dread with which strippers await Hustlers. What stupid misconceptions will it leave the audience with? How many years will it be the general public’s touchstone for what we do? Will it portray all strippers as one national financial collapse away from forming a ring to drug customers, then max out their credit cards, as they did in the real-life criminal cases at the center of the New York story on which the movie is based?

Hustlers addresses that last question head-on. The film’s framing device is an interview of Destiny (Constance Wu), the character based on Roslyn Keo, by Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a stand-in for journalist Jessica Pressler. Destiny asks Elizabeth what’s going into the story, and says she doesn’t want it to be a hit piece about how all strippers are thieves, because it’s not like that.

If you, like Destiny, don’t want to see another story paint strippers as ripoff artists, are left unable to enjoy the movie because of the real stigma faced by strippers, because FOSTA has made your life harder while movie stars build award-contending performances on our stories, or because it doesn’t resemble your experience remotely, I absolutely get it. But one reason sex workers feel our depiction in Hustlers is a high-stakes issue is the low rate of representation of strippers and sex workers as leads in major motion pictures. We’re accustomed to being props, punchlines, victims or villians, and we know that it’s going to be a long time before another stripper story is allowed to take center stage. Shouldn’t this one do something good for us? Is it good for the strippers?