LOS ANGELES — In the heart of downtown L.A., the JW Marriott pulsed with camera flashes tracking the stream of industry leaders flowing down the red carpet and into the 2018 XBIZ Awards. The ceremony was distinctive in that it attracted the top representatives from across the globe and from every branch of the adult industry. The show not only unified performers and producers from every adult film genre — fetish, straight, trans, gay — it also celebrated the best of the best in technology, pleasure products and retail.
Attendants bustled and rubbed shoulders with the crème de la crème, as they enjoyed cocktails and filed into the auditorium, searching for a place to sit at the exclusive round tables. The silent corners in the shadowy edges of the jampacked grand ballroom hummed with the memory of those who were no longer with us, and those who would come after us. Change is the one constant in the adult industry, after all, surging forward in waves to erode the division between fantasy and reality, amidst a constant influx of new faces, new bodies and new blood. As the status quo dies, fresh power players infuse the industry with vitality and imagination, driving the next wave of innovation.
When the house lights went down and the stage lights came up on a golden backdrop, the crowd burst into applause. Master of ceremonies Jessica Drake waltzed onto center stage in a white dress nailed with metal studs. For many, she was the embodiment of the two hemispheres of the adult industry: brains and beauty. The crowd fell silent beneath the weight of her opening speech. Drake was tasked with addressing the industry in the wake of the untimely death of yet another adult performer, Olivia Lua. This tragedy echoed the recent losses of Shyla Styles, Yuri Love, Olivia Nova and August Ames, all of whom Drake honored by name.
“Our job is to make people happy,” Drake said. “We bring pleasure to millions of people around the world. We provide an escape, making it a little easier for many to get through their day. And we keep doing it even when the government comes for us. Even when the court of public opinion turns on us, we keep doing it.
“When we band together we can move mountains. Prop 60: defeated. The politicians who vote to repeal net neutrality, get ready. You’ll be hearing from us. Everyone in this room is on the leading edge of society. We start the debates about sex and technology, privacy and personal responsibility. And like a great big family filled with outspoken, artistic, maverick personalities, sometimes we can’t figure out how to agree to disagree. Sometimes we neglect to treat each other with compassion respect and kindness. Sometimes some of us cannot find the strength to keep going. Tonight, we honor the precious lives that we have lost. Tonight, we vow to unite as an industry.”
Drake vowed to donate the money she would receive for hosting the awards to SuicidePreventionLifeline.com and StopCyberBullying.org.
“For many of us,” Drake continued, “this industry and these people, are the only true family we have.”
This sentiment of solidarity was echoed throughout the ceremony. For the first award of the evening, Comedy Release of the Year, Adam & Eve director Will Ryder brought the cast and crew of “Bad Babes Inc.” onstage with him to accept the trophy.
Kayden Kross followed Ryder. She accepted the award in Vignette Release of the Year for TrenchcoatX.com’s, “Sun-Lit.” Kross took her moment in the spotlight to thank her supportive husband and fellow content creator, Manuel Ferrara.
While presenting the nominees for Girl/Girl Performer of the Year, Ana Foxxx joked about her closeness to her community of performers, saying, “Half of these ladies have licked my pussy, but the winner has not, yet: Darcie Dolce.”
Dolce also thanked her husband. She claimed that none of her success would have been possible without him. She also raised a sentiment that would reverberate through the evening: the XBIZ awards celebrates misfit creators and performers whose talents are often ignored or even ostracized by the mainstream world.
“I’ve never had a trophy, ever, ever,” Dolce said. “This is so fucking dope.”
The Web Star of the Year, Catjira, was so blindsided when she was called on stage, her enthusiasm and gratitude resonated powerfully throughout the ballroom.
“Who am I, I don’t know,” she laughed, giddily. “Is this really happening?”
As with most every cam model who took the stage, Catjira was a reminder of all the talent emerging in the cam world. The XBIZ Awards was the first time many of these women came out from behind their webcams and physically joined the global community of adult entertainers.
MyFreeCams.com (MFC) won for Cam Site of the Year — North America, its sixth XBIZ Award. MFC models of every shape, size, ethnicity and age stood up to accept the collective award. For most, it was their first time on stage.
“I love my MFC community,” one model said, speaking for the group, “and I’m excited to join the porn community.”
The Jasmin.com team accepted their award for Cam Site of the Year — Europe by thanking the hundreds of thousands of models who have made their site one of the most popular websites in the world.
Best Sex Scene — Gonzo Release went to Abella Danger and Markus Dupree for their joint effort in “Fucking Flexible,” directed by Toni Ribas for Evil Angel. This was Dupree’s first XBIZ win. He took the moment to thank Danger for helping him break into the American scene. She spread the word that he didn’t necessarily speak perfect English, but he was an expert in the universal language of sex.
The unassuming, redheaded vixen Penny Pax, won a much deserved Best Actress — Feature Release, for reviving her role in Jacky St. James’ “The Submission of Emma Marx: Evolved.” In the film, Pax played a young woman struggling to carry on after the loss of her lover.
“Let’s stay together,” Pax told the crowd. “Life is precious.”
Charles Dera earned the unofficial award for most spirited acceptance speech with his win in Best Actor — Feature Release for his role in “Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy.” Dera pumped his fists while sporting a handlebar mustache and a white suit with a black tie fashioned after KFC’s Colonel Sanders. Dera was a reminder of why most of us got into this profession: to have fun.
“Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy” also won for Feature Movie of the Year. Bree Mills invited her entire crew and cast onstage.
“I want to dedicate this to every single person behind me, and every single person who has been involved in this project,” Mills said. She then left the audience with her call to action. “Challenge the status quo. It pays off.”
Sexpert of the Year, Dr. Chris Donaghue, showed his camaraderie with the adult industry.
“You’ve inspired me,” he said, “and you showed me what courage and authenticity looks like.”
Chanel Santini bested several veteran performers to claim Trans Performer of the Year. She acknowledged her debt of gratitude, not only to those who came before, but to all of her fellow T girls struggling for equality in an industry where they are often seen as outsiders.
“We are here, we are present, and we are motherfucking superstars,” she proclaimed.
Mills appeared on stage a second time when honored with Director of the Year — Body of Work. This time, her wife Sara Luvv stood by her side while Mills acknowledged the importance of having a supportive family. Again, she gave most of the credit for the success of her films to her cast and crew.
“All I’ve done this year is set the stage,” she said. “You guys did the rest.”
Raven-haired beauty Romi Rain cycled between laughing and getting choked up when she won Female Performer of the Year.
“This is the first time I’ve been on stage to accept a major award,” she said. “I love my fucking industry. I will stand up for you. Thank you for appreciating me. I appreciate you.”
Male Performer of the Year went to another deserving, first-time winner: Small Hands. The tattooed rocker credited his success to his partner in crime who got him into the industry.
“To my wife Joanna Angel. What on earth did you get me into, you crazy woman?” Small Hands said, before adding, “In this shitty world, in words and in actions, please just be good to each other. Thank you.”
The exotic and boldly beautiful Honey Gold captured the audience’s heart when she won Best New Starlet.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Gold said, fighting back tears. “My entire life I’ve done nothing but fight and struggle and face rejection. And when I got into this industry, I lost family. I lost friends.”
Each pause provoked a burst of applause.
“I want to thank each and every one of you I’ve worked with and those who have given me words of encouragement. I am a testament that your kindness has gone a long way. I’ve had good days and God knows I’ve had bad days. The encouragement I’ve received from so many of you has kept me going. I have found my passion and it is an honor to stand here among all my peers and accept this, because for once in my life I actually belong somewhere.”
The auditorium exploded with support. All of those professionals still sitting in the shadows, still waiting for their names to be called on stage, all of those whose time on stage had come and gone, we all saw a reflection of ourselves in Gold. We saw our struggles, and our hoped-for reward. We saw the potential for the adult industry to be a strong, unified community and to be a force for positive change. Gold was a reminder to us all that we can’t truly appreciate what it means to win, without first understanding what it means to fail, and to keep moving forward.
A list of 2018 XBIZ Awards winners can be viewed here.