A new documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, follows young women as they are maneuvered into being "amateur" porn performers, then discarded by the business within a matter of months.
Its not an indictment of pornography per se, but an exposé of labor abuse on the fringes of legality—a place where consumers, moreso than the law, are in a position to help make a difference.
Buzzfeed's Ariane Lange looks at the film, by Rashida Jones, which hits Netflix today.
"They're all just looking for an adventure, and porn, because there's a recruiter right there offering them a plane ticket, is a very easy vehicle," [co-director Ronna] Gradus said.
And yet, Bauer noted, "every assumption about who a porn girl is" — dysfunctional family, depressing childhood, etc. — "it's actually not true."
Hot Girls Wanted focuses on 19-year-old Tressa, a high school cheerleader and good student who leaves her parents in small-town Texas to go to Florida and work in porn. Bauer and Gradus were intrigued by her because she'd gotten into porn in a seemingly spontaneous way they saw as typical. "I needed some way to escape somehow," Tressa says in the documentary. "And I found an ad on Craigslist."
Tressa, like the four other young women the movie shows, is not in a strong position to negotiate her working conditions.
Variety's Geoff Berkshire says it's "an eye-opener for parents," which I can't help feel misses the point. But in his coverage is an important part often missed: that technology and communications are the medium that helps young people make dreadful mistakes.
"Hot Girls Wanted" also conveys how much modern technology has changed the porn biz — not just in the ease of both access and production (basically any rube can shoot a sex act on a phone and label it art and therefore "free speech"), but also the self-promotional culture created by social media. At a time when self-esteem is determined by likes, friends and followers, the quickest way to boost a social profile is through sex appeal. As 19-year-old Michelle says of her transition from nude Twitpics to filming hardcore scenes: "I do it anyway, why not?"
The New York Times' Mike Hale says the documentary doesn't manage to reconcile two viewpoints within it, "respecting the right of their subjects to make the choices they do while abhorring those decisions."
The pathos is right on the surface, as the women stroke their tiny dogs and discuss money, independence and the absolute necessity of escaping their parents."Hot Girls Wanted" traces a narrative path from eager expectation to jaded cynicism — it's the old Hollywood starlet story — as we learn that most of the women experience a compressed career of a few months in the "amateur" pornography field before being pushed aside by new arrivals. The scarier, even more callous side of the business appears in due course as the women sign on for niche videos to keep the checks coming in.
The sleazeballs doing this are well-versed in the language of female sexual empowerment. It's a key ingredient of the scam. PRI:
"They work very hard when they shoot these scenes and then they go back and they're very supportive. They say, 'I feel empowered,'" says Gradus. "There's this kind of mantra, this kind of speak. There are certainly, certainly women that are making porn and it is empowering for them and it works for them — sex is a very nuanced topic and so is pornography. We're not here to be anti-pornography people. We just captured one particular part of the industry: Professional amature porn."
Though many of these young women "talked the talk," Gradus says that feelings of empowerment often erode as their time in the industry grows. And most of these young women don't last a year in the business.
Here's the trailer for the documentary: