How do you make a documentary on a subject billions of people are connected to, but few would discuss in public or access at work? You do it with the compassion and fair mind of Hot Girls Wanted, the sophomore effort from journalists Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus on the promises and perils of the ‘amateur’ porn industry. Produced by Parks & Rec‘s Rashida Jones (who receives saddening if unsurprising trolling for her stance on this subject), it follows the blisteringly brief careers of several young women, all but one in their teens, who move to Miami to make a go of being porn stars.
I use ‘women’ in place of ‘girls’, because, as other adult stars & the women themselves have said, they are all at a legal age. More importantly, this documentary shows them to be smart, capable people – so much more than the cliché of a young porn actress would suggest. No condescension takes place: whether speaking on Skype with the filmmakers, relaxing in their shared house or on set, the women display a humanity that induces uneasiness when you see how little is afforded to them.
Family and friends have a role to play, but never to shame or ostracise the women for their choices. One of the most touching moments is when a mother talks through these choices with her daughter. You can see the tension she feels, caught between not wanting to control her beloved and the fear over what could happen to her.
It is not the idea of porn that is under attack. This is no pulpit-bashing, Mary Whitehouse-style prudishness; the film acknowledges that women taking control of their bodies in a patriarchal society is hugely important, and the confidence displayed by these young women may in part be due to them doing just that. None of that excuses their deception and brutalisation at the hands of an industry with ethical standards that can’t really be described, because they simply don’t exist. The mantra is ‘If it makes you money, do it’, with scant regard for job security or longevity, never mind silly things like self-esteem and personal comfort. It is worth noting that most of the people behind the camera, from filmmakers and runners to agents, are male. One director gives his male actor the following note:
‘You kind of – without really getting a yes – you kind of start to keep going with it’.
That’s not showing people sex; it’s showing people rape. Porn should continue; that doesn’t mean it has to continue like this.
Fierce capitalism is the true target, and the sexualisation of, well, everything, in the name of making money. The kind of capitalism that causes a young man to wear a vest emblazoned ‘Ask me how to make $100’, to maximise his chances of hiring the ‘hottest’ girls. The kind that commercialises the abuse of women, turning what would be sex crimes into marketable property. Many of the best documentaries offer a new perspective on something we thought we knew; it is difficult to have the same opinion of the ‘amateur’ porn industry after watching such rife exploitation.
Take the sex out of the picture if it makes you uncomfortable (as it often does the actresses, several of whom say they how utterly unsexy the experience is). This is an exposé of the lies being literally sold to make far greater sums of money. The film smartly captures the disparity between the expectations of those entering the industry and the reality known by those in it. The sought-after 18-year-olds imagine fame and fortune across the next decade; the cold hard truth is a couple of short videos and they’re done, most within six months. It is not OK to trick people this way.
Hot Girls Wanted is not a full stop. It is the start of a conversation that is long overdue. When checking her pornstar alter-ego’s rapidly increasing Twitter followers, one of the women realises that her videos will be seen worldwide. I hope people around the globe see Hot Girls Wanted too, even if for no other reason than to hear their side of this story.
Hot Girls Wanted is available on Netflix.
There is also a vibrant panel discussion on the film and the issues it raises, hosted by Rashida Jones and featuring the directors and one of the young women, here, and a VICE interview with Jones here.