Girls next door who do porn

Rashida Jones’ documentary Hot Girls Wanted might not be the hard-hitting exposé of the porn industry you were expecting – but perhaps it’s not meant to be, writes Lusana Taylor

, 10 October 2015

In this age of fast-paced, 24-hour news coverage, the Twitter storms of yesteryear are quickly buried beneath the next barrage of salacious human interest stories. But perhaps you still have hazy memories of Miriam Weeks, AKA Belle Knox, the 18-year-old college student who famously funded her tuition through a (not so) secret porn career.

hot_girls-wanted

As the documentary Hot Girls Wanted (2015) illustrates, Weeks’ choice might have appeared controversial at the time, but she is just one of a growing number of young women turning to the porn industry as a viable career alternative. These women are not the archetypal would-be Hollywood actors waiting for their big break, neither are they those who fall into sex work because of abject poverty. They are often well-educated, middle class women who purposefully choose to pursue porn careers, attracted by the apparent glamour, the money or, in some cases, the promise of an escape from their humdrum – although not exactly uncomfortable – lives. They are the genuine “girls next door” who may have once been seen as too nice or too ‘normal’ to do porn. It is this emerging phenomenon, known as “pro-am” (i.e. “professional amateur”, a paid amateur), that filmmakers Rashida Jones (of Parks and Recreationfame), Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus explore in their documentary.

Hot Girls Wanted follows five women involved in the pro-am scene: Tressa, Rachel, Michelle, Karly and Jade. They have all been in the industry for varying lengths of time, ranging from a couple of years to a few days, and live together in a house in Miami overseen by talent agent, Riley. Riley’s duties include driving “his girls” to shoots and sourcing new talent through shrewdly worded Craigslist ads promising, amongst other things, free flights to Florida.

Regardless of the laidback reality TV vibe, the documentary does attempt to expose shocking facts about the industry it explores

It might sound surprising for a porn documentary but at times Hot Girls Wanted verges on mundane. The camera doesn’t just give us an insight into shoots, but also the everyday lives of the women as they chat to each other about parties, check their phones to see how many Twitter followers they have accumulated, devise vaginal douching solutions, go on day trips to the zoo or even travel home to visit their families who may or may not know about their careers. The main purpose behind this seems to be to emphasise the girls’ normality, but the filming style also means parallels can easily be drawn with the immediately recognisable format of popular reality TV programmes.

Before making the documentary Rashida Jones came under fire for her comments on the “pornification” of pop culture, with many criticising her stance as “anti-feminist” and slut shaming. The fly-on-the-wall nature of Hot Girls Wanted leaves little room for explicit moralising but the mash-up of music videos by the likes of Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus, along with celebrity sex tape clips and risqué reality TV footage shown in the introduction, could be seen as Jones’ attempt to prove her point. The explanation for the rise of the pro-am trend is never fully teased out during the course of Hot Girls Wanted but this ‘pornified’ cultural landscape coupled with the upsurge of social media seem to be the reasons hinted at.

Regardless of the laidback reality TV vibe, the documentary does attempt to expose shocking facts about the industry it explores. Footage of the women eating pizza and playing with Riley’s pet dogs is intercut with a series of statistics regarding issues such as the growth of so-called “abuse porn” websites (immediately recognisable by their oh-so-subtle names: “Facial Abuse” or “Exploited Teens”). While the existence of these sites is pretty disturbing in itself, there has been speculation that some of the statistics appearing in the documentary should perhaps be taken with a generous pinch of salt. There are shocking moments in Hot Girls Wanted that clearly show the need for reform within the industry – however, the possible agenda of the filmmakers should be kept in mind during the parts of the film where we are told rather than shown.

Those looking for a dramatic, heavy-hitting exposé might be disappointed by the pace of the documentary

Despite the women’s assurances that the guys on set treat them “like princesses”, at times there is a sense that they are not entirely comfortable with the way certain shoots are progressing. This is particularly evident in a scene Rachel films with an older male actor, with a script involving a “family friend” grooming a young girl before taking her virginity. The porn industry’s enduring preoccupation with this kind of performed exploitation is troubling, especially coupled as it is with dubious lines of consent: in this particular scene, for instance, the male actor is directed to “keep going” without getting a “full yes” from the character Rachel is playing. While the viewer (hopefully) knows it’s all acting and that the woman involved is a consenting adult, the similarities between this kind of scene and accounts of genuine sexual exploitation are difficult to ignore.

Hot Girls Wanted certainly does bring to light some worrying truths about the porn industry, particularly in relation to the influx of young recruits. Nevertheless, those looking for a dramatic, heavy-hitting exposé might be disappointed by the pace of the documentary. In a lot of ways I feel this may be a conscious choice by the filmmakers, trying to place Hot Girls Wanted very firmly within the context of a culture obsessed with following glamorous people around – whether they’re doing interesting things or not. However, the impact of the documentary is also dulled, I think, by the sense that most of the women involved have comfortable lives they can return to if they find that sex work is not for them, or at least have the means to choose how they ultimately shape their destinies. Not to diminish the value of the film exploring a new social phenomenon, this should also serve to remind us of those who are not so privileged as to have that choice.

Hot Girls Wanted is available to watch on Netflix.

The picture is still from the film, taken from HOT GIRLS WANTED official FB page. It shows a slender person, probably a cis woman, with long dark hair covering their face and the outline of black push-up bra visible beneath it, sitting on a bed wearing white knee long socks. The person’s legs are positioned in a way covering their genital area. The bed has white bed sheets and is in a room with blinds in the window and night lamp light from the left.

Lusana is a fiction editor and ex-bookseller. Her free time is mainly spent absorbed in such productive pursuits as taking (too many) photos of her cat and looking back fondly on the 1990s

Comments From You

Dr Sal // Posted 11 October 2015 at 12:50 pm

This is a really good article and I also have the greatest respect for Rashida Jones speaking out about something despite having then to don a tin hat and deal with haters accusing her of being anti-feminist for having what is essentially a different FEMINIST perspective of the pornification of mainstream culture and the impact it is having on essentially limiting rather than empowering young women. For others to attempt to shut her down by calling her a prude and anti-feminist is insupportable to me having actually listened to what she has to say.

An interview with the talented director in which she discusses her motivations for the documentary is quite illuminating – where she essentially explains why (like many feminists who are also feeling beleaguered by being consistently marginalized in the ‘shut up you’re not a real feminist if…’ kind of way), she holds these views – in the understanding of the difference between empowered sexuality versus sexualisation, which is essentially the objectification of (most often young female) sexuality for the consumption of others (most often males) and that the pure exchange of money does not automatically equal empowerment, particularly in a market which has such wide reaching externality impacts.

It’s worth 13 minutes of your time – whether you agree or disagree with that stance to actually hear what she is saying. https://youtu.be/PLYszpvyED4

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