Race in Porn: Here's What Needs to Change

Race in Porn: Here's What Needs to Change

LOS ANGELES — Twelve industry luminaries gathered for Wednesday’s virtual Town Hall, hosted by XBIZ, to share their personal stories and points of view on the specific issues of racism and discrimination in adult production. Throughout the 85-minute open discussion the panelists examined how the community of adult entertainment can work together to create lasting change.

The panel was led by Lotus Lain, performer and talent relations advocate for the Free Speech Coalition; Micky Mod, performer and creative director for Kink.com; and Shine Louise Houston, filmmaker and founder of Pink & White Productions.

Joining them were performer-directors Ricky Johnson and Lexington Steele and performers Natassia Dreams, Ana Foxxx, Wolf Hudson, Isiah Maxwell (2019 XBIZ winner for Male Performer of the Year), Kira Noir, Misty Stone and Sean Zevran (2017 XBIZ winner for Gay Performer of the Year).

Scores of industry stakeholders filled a raucous chatroom to engage with the panelists and offered a running steam of thoughtful questions and passionate commentary.

"This is a unique moment in time when people are listening"

“It feels like there’s a lot of new change happening these days,” Houston remarked as she kicked off the discussion. “Many of you may be recalling events of high concern regarding your work in the industry,” she said as she addressed the panel. “Emotions may run high, and that’s expected, but this discussion is not only [intended] to bring to light these experiences but also to move forward together in envisioning how we’d like the industry to function for ourselves and for those who enter the industry after us.”

“But to be clear,” she continued, “the burden of change doesn’t rest solely on people of color working in the industry. And [by] people of color — I mean people with heritage that includes African-American, Latin-American, Palestinian, Korean, First Nation, West Indian, the list can go on.”

“To non people of color,” she said. “We are inviting you to reflect on how you’ve handled, or haven’t handled, racial issues on set or in business practices and to consider creating new plans and policies going forward.”

Lain echoed Houston’s opening statement.

“We want to think about the kind of industry we want going forward,” she said. “This is a unique moment in time when people are listening, where we have the industry’s eyes and ears.”

She then invited the panelists to share personal stories of how the commercial adult industry has disenfranchised and excluded them.

Noir spoke to tokenism that she believes prevented her from fully establishing herself as a new performer and expressed her guilt over the fact that her stardom now may prevent another female performer of color from taking the spotlight.

“I was feeling for years that I was ‘waiting my turn,’” she said. “White girls don’t have to worry about that. I am sick of being told, ‘We’ll shoot you next month’ or ‘We’ll have you in the spotlight next year because we’ve already done our ‘black scenes’ for now and we filled our quota.’”

Foxxx echoed Noir’s thoughts about tokenism. “You have to walk around feeling humbled all the time, feeling like you need to praise people that give you work… you have to be extra-good.”

"I’ve had to be uncomfortable for the comfort of others"

Zevran and Dreams spoke about a subtler form of tokenism, and “othering,” that they’ve encountered.

“What I’ve noticed with some of the studios, it often feels like they’ll allow me a little more opportunity just because they feel that I’m black enough, but not too black,” Zevran observed. “I’ve seen a lot of that happen. In a way, it is tokenism. They’ll try to emphasize the fact that I am a person of color, so they’ll very much highlight that. It’s never spoken but you can always tell there’s something going on as far as their marketing is concerned. I think it’s producers and directors being a little bit tone-deaf about these things.”

Dreams expressed weariness about the limited ways trans women of color are typically portrayed. “The companies have to have a token black girl on their site,” she said, and “when you’re a black trans woman, they want you to play an aggressive role all the time.”

Time and again over the years, Dreams has pitched a film featuring an all-black cast, and only recently has the project been given a green light.

“‘All-black won’t sell. Wouldn’t be worth it.’ I’m frustrated,” she said. “We are all black performers here; we sell. I don’t know why a company would tell me that a movie full of black performers wouldn’t sell. That’s something that we have to work within our industry.”

“We’re already ‘less than’ other performers when we perform just as much, we test just as much, we travel just as much,” she continued. “So why do we always have to have our own category? Why do we always have to be 'less-than?' We don’t get box covers, we don’t get magazine covers. We don’t get our own private makeup artist and our own dressing room like other performers and that is something that has to change. Also, everyone is saying ‘black lives matter’ but I go to their [website] and I don’t see any African-American people. I’m almost tired of saying it. Every day I wake up and it’s the same.”

Lexington Steele, as a legacy performer, and one of a small handful of black directors and performers, was invited to share his experiences. Steele spoke to his efforts at effecting change, going back two decades, but echoed the frustration of others on the panel that, in the 22 years following his debut, he is having the same kinds of discussions about otherness, tokenism and systemic racism.

Lain asked Ricky Johnson to chime in about his own experience as a newly established producer and director.

“My experience has been that I’ve had to be uncomfortable for the comfort of others,” he said. “At some point, we get tired of that. It’s more about normalization. I don’t think it’s [considered] normal to see a black person on a website. If you take away the three or four popular websites that cater to the black person then… someone has to go to page seven to find a black person.”

He cited normalization as something the industry, including XBIZ, could do better. “You contribute,” he said. “You’re what people see. If they see that ‘interracial’ is [always] black-and-white then that’s what they think. Everyone needs to be held accountable.”

“It’s important that we normalize black people,” he explained. “We’re normal. We shouldn’t feel ostracized. There are times when I’m pulled away from a set because this girl ‘doesn’t do black people.’ That’s a terrible feeling. I don’t feel human because someone says, ‘You can’t work because of the color of your skin.’”

Mickey Mod picked up that thread of the conversation. “This is not the first conversation about race this industry has had. All these people [in the chatroom] commenting, ‘Thank you for sharing your experiences.’ We’ve been sharing our experiences. This is not new information. Some of you in [the chatroom] have caused some of these experiences and we need to acknowledge that.”

“If we all want to move forward, some of the same behaviors that we see in assaults getting covered up and denied and people being gaslit, people being made to think that they’re insane for their experiences — we need to acknowledge that,” said Mod. “We need to be transparent and honest about it. In order to move forward we need to say, ‘Yes, we all fucked up. Yes, we are all complicit in this system.’ But we cannot continue on [and] pretend like these experiences don’t exist and that this is new information.”

“Ricky said it really beautifully: Our humanity is consistently denied. Our experiences are consistently denied,” he continued. “And you are lucky that all we want is equality in this situation. Because if we were mad and we were going to go that route, you would hear about it. I’m sorry [if I’m] tense the way I’m sounding, but it chokes me up sometimes when we have to skirt the issue because there’s no protection for performers. So when we say something, we’re worried about the next time we get a check to [be able to] eat. Nobody in this industry should be making that decision.”

"We’ve been talking about our experiences for so long and they’re not hearing it"

Zevran and Misty Stone advocated for concrete action.

"I don’t think any of us here should apologize for tone,” said Zevran. "I’m very appreciative to be a part of this discussion, but is this just for show? Or is anything really going to be done here? Everybody wants a word about something; what are they doing other than giving themselves a headline? I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m not going to apologize for my tone. I’ve got nothing to lose, I’ve got nothing to gain."

Stone spoke passionately about a list of demands introduced at a community meeting organized by retired performer Sinnamon Love earlier this week.

“I just want to see something done,” she said. “Our experiences are not enough, baby. We’ve been talking about our experiences for so long and they’re not hearing it. We’ve got to die-and-cry for them to really see what we’re going through and see that we’re human beings and it’s annoying me. I want to talk about our demands and I want to talk about what we want them to do, specifically.”

Ricky Johnson urged people of color in the industry to organize. “We can’t just hope that everyone else does their part for us,” he said. “We also have to be a community ourselves. It’s important that we become our own bosses.”

Wolf Hudson described a unique situation for performers that has materialized in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. "You have studios literally on their knees, begging for content. That to me is demonstrating the true value of performers. 'Please give us what you have.' That is true power," he said.

"This is a moment when performers of color can really set the tone. I’m tired of waiting for studios to do their part," Hudson observed, and recalled "many moments" of problematic behavior over the years that he did not call out due to concerns of retribution. "You don’t want to lose your money to pay the rent. Now? It’s not the case. Right now, we have a voice and people are listening. This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted."

Lain read aloud a question submitted by performer and sexpert Jet Setting Jasmine that asked where the panelists will now draw the line, particularly as studio representatives were actually in the chat and listening to the conversation.

Johnson spoke about striving to effect change “from the inside-out” as an exclusive performer for MindGeek, and as a burgeoning producer. He recalled successful efforts to have Reality Kings and other studios delete offensive content and hire more black talent.

Dreams expressed pride at finally having her all-black film approved. “I [also] want black hair stylists and black makeup artists because I am so sick of having my makeup two shades darker or lighter than what I really am,” she said, as Foxxx and the other women on the panel enthusiastically expressed their approval. “That’s one thing that I’m going to do from now on. When I get to set [I will] make sure there’s some black talent [and] make sure they know how to light me because it’s different lighting me.”

She expressed solidarity with black trans women in the industry. “We want to make black art, but a lot of black men in general don’t want to work with trans. It’s this taboo within our community. At the end of the day, we are all artists. This is art we’re creating, it doesn’t [define] anybody’s sexuality. Within the industry, we have to work on that because black trans people are not represented at all in our community. There [aren’t] many people on this panel that I can say will have my back if something happens to me. We’re fighting for our rights at the same time, but I don’t know who has my back.”

"I'm tired of not having input"

Stone read off a list of demands, which included the all-too-common practice of changing the title of a scene after the fact to something that is overtly racist or racialized.

"So many times, we do these scenes and then, later on, they changed the titles. I’m tired of not having input," she said. "If we’re having some type of movie that’s all about us, I feel like it’s so unfair that we don’t get that input. If they asked us, 'Who would you like to do your makeup? Who would you like to work with?' Nobody asks me that! They just put people in my scenes. And I’m sick of it. I want to have my own input. It’s very, very important. We just keep crying about the things that have happened to us — nobody’s going to listen. It’s the same thing, over and over again. We need to have some demands and make them do it."

Another question read by Lain spoke to concerns over eliminating “interracial” terms and descriptives.

"What would be the best way to avoid both tokenizing and fetishizing race while not erasing blackness and identity?" asked the questioner.

Kira Noir expressed her misgivings about entirely eliminating “interracial” sites and categories.

“It’s scary because for a lot of black performers, the only way you work is to work for the IR companies,” she said, and called for black performers to be cast in as many diverse roles as white female performers.

“We want you to shoot us based on if we actually sell and if we’re good performers rather than your ‘black person quota.’ I’m sick of being told, ‘We already shot enough black people this month.’ I’ve been told people are going to wait to shoot me until next year because they’ve already shot their one black girl,” she said. “Just put us in normal scenes. It doesn’t have to be about our race. You can have a beautiful, muscular, dark-skinned man, all oiled up, and looking fine, without making it ‘the IR scene’ or having that kind of language about it. Just put us in scenes like we’re normal people.”

“You can highlight our features,” she said. “Highlight the fact that we have dark, beautiful skin. Highlight the fact that they have giant cocks or big asses but make it about the fact that they’re attractive people who are good performers, don’t make it about the fact that they’re black. That’s what we’re asking for. We don’t want to be ‘the black scene’ or the black performer that you’re giving shine to right now because you’re not going to give any other black person that kind of spotlight. Just treat us as you would any other white performer.”

"I want there to be more options [for black performers]," she said.

"Me, personally, I’ve done some scenes that, now, I extremely regret that were heavily racialized, things that I really don’t agree with, because I felt like that was the only thing I was going to be getting that month," Noir recalled. "I used to be in a place where I wasn’t shooting that much and I was feeling like I was lucky to do these scenes and it made me feel fucking sick inside and I want to change that going forward, for not only us but for the performers who are going to come after us. I want to make it so you can feel more comfortable turning down those scenes if you don’t want to do something like that because you know you can still do scenes that aren’t about your race.”

"I need more people to acknowledge privilege, so they can change that behavior"

Mickey Mod returned to the importance of “making space to have these conversations ourselves, instead of waiting for someone else to let us speak.”

“This is an ongoing conversation. This doesn’t just stop because a hashtag has stopped trending,” he said. “It’s a huge moment right now and people have a lot of eyes on it, but it happens every day — and not on social media. It happens on set. And that’s why we need more people of color on set and more people of color making decisions and that’s why we need to support each other. I’ve been seeing a lot of questions in the chat, like, ‘What can we do as producers?’ and ‘What can white performers do?’ The most important thing to do is really acknowledge your own behavior and how we’ve all been complicit in that system.”

Shine Louise Houston described a conscious decision to operate outside the mainstream adult industry, which includes not submitting some of her work for awards consideration (“I don’t want to categorize it under racial terms”) and avoiding hiring performers through agents due to the horror stories she has heard.

She wondered aloud whether she had perpetuated the problems facing people of color by separating herself from the larger overall system. "I would like to change that," she said. "I saw in the chat, as we were talking about solutions, ‘There needs to be more business owners,’ and that is good, but I will tell you, as a person of color [and] business owner, there are so many financial hurdles. If I go into a bank to open [an] account, I am denied. I am so glad for online banking because now I can apply online. I went to open a second account, where I already had a business account, and was denied! If we are going to encourage more people of color businesses, so we can run a business the way we want, there also has to be support in that area.”

“Demands are good,” she said, adding that she wants to see more white people owning up to their complicity. “I need more people to acknowledge this, to acknowledge privilege, so they can change that behavior. I think the question that needs to be asked right now is, ‘Why haven’t things changed?’ Yes, they’ve been listening to us for years. This isn’t new. The adult industry does not live in a bubble. There’s proof of concept that things can change and people will still make money. I think institutions fear change and the inconvenience of change is what stops people. I think other entrepreneurs and business allies need to step up and say, ‘We made those changes and we are still successful.’”

Houston became emotional as she returned to the notion, expressed by many of the panelists, that it is not the responsibility of people of color to tell white people what to do. “I don’t think we need to educate people on racism or how racism plays out; I think we’re all very clear on it. I think we’re all very clear on how we participate in it,” she said. “Everybody knows. Everybody knows what happens. The question is: Why don’t we change? We need to change.”

“Peaceful protests only get you so far"

Zevran echoed her viewpoint. "No, it’s not our job to educate. We’ve been educating for years. They know. Like Misty was saying, we need to be in people’s faces," he said. "It’s nice to have these panels, it’s easy to speak up on Twitter… We can say the agents will hold agents accountable, but that’s like saying the police will hold police accountable. Companies aren’t going to hold themselves accountable; that’s one thing I learned. Within companies there are certain producers and directors who want to see change, I’ve worked with a lot of them. So the only way to get past that is more organization as performers.”

(Several hours after the virtual Town Hall, a group of talent agencies issued an extraordinarily rare joint statement pledging to end talent rate disparities, among other points of action.)

“Peaceful protests only get you so far,” Zevran continued. “The powers-that-be like ‘peaceful’ because they can ignore ‘peaceful.’ It’s not until you get in somebody’s face and say, ‘Look, this is what’s going to happen if you do not heed these demands.’ We don’t have enough power to do it in panels or individually until we start laying down some repercussions.”

Maxwell returned to the topic of normalization as the panel drew to a close. “There’s this uncomfortable feeling of what is ‘normal’ in this industry, and that needs to change,” he said. “We all just need to challenge the norm. It’s the ‘norm’ that is hurting us.”

Johnson spoke about doing his best “to be able to sit at the table,” and to set an example, while Zevran urged the industry to “create what’s outside the algorithm” that many studios rely upon to decide what to shoot and who they should cast.

Lain joined Maxwell in decrying a commonly heard trope that there aren’t enough black female performers for studios to hire.

“I implore them to step out of the clouds and to get on Twitter like everyone else and scroll and you’ll see who people are interacting with, who other performers are interacting with,” she said. “‘Look at this new black cutie from England! Look at this black cutie in Florida.’ You’ll see so many cute, new girls. That’s how I find them. They’re creating their own Pornhub channel, they’re creating their own ManyVids – they’re out there, fucking.”

Lain explained these performers may not be represented by a major agency, but there are multiple chances to introduce new talent and to cast from beyond what she described as the Los Angeles-Las Vegas-Miami bubble.

"Maybe you can give them that opportunity first and put more black female performers on the screen,” she said. “I can’t stand hearing that there aren’t enough or ‘Where are they?’ They’re literally on Twitter and you just have to look. They’re literally on ManyVids and you just have to look. They’re on Pornhub. There are girls in Tennessee that are CEOs of their own black companies and we won’t hear of them.”

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has created a situation, Mod observed, where industry stakeholders are not constantly shooting “so they don’t have the excuse that they’re too busy to think about these things. And if it means for some companies [to] completely change your business model, that’s maybe what you have to do.”

“We’ve seen OnlyFans and ManyVids and these platforms where consumers can go directly to performers of color and buy their shit. And that is working for people, so we can’t say there’s not a demand anymore,” he added. “Give us your money; we will take it. We’re out there.”

Houston closed the discussion by thanking the panelists for their “honesty and vulnerability.”

“The door is open again; there’s an opportunity again, hopefully, for some change. These conversations will continue,” she said. “But I think a lot of people are motivated and have a fire under their butt.”

Action items for the adult production community include:

  • No more mockery of people of color, religion, ethnicity, body types, or age
  • "Complete reform" of booking agents and managers to mitigate talent rate disparities
  • Increasing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) behind the scenes through an industry-funded career pipeline
  • Intimacy coordinators on set to avoid racialized scenarios
  • Paid diversity consultants at every company, including pleasure products and camming, to avoid racialized business practices, including in marketing and advertising
  • Diversification of staffing at all companies from the top down to increase BIPOC behind the scenes
  • The elimination of derogatory terms in all media, including blocking racially charged language on all digital media where performers engage
  • First notification of changes to movie titles for subsequent releases to avoid the use of racialized and derogatory titles
  • Ask performers how they would like to be described to avoid racialized descriptives
  • Increased representation of BIPOC in adult industry media including online, in print and at events

XBIZ invites the entire adult production community to watch the video-recorded discussion (available soon on XBIZ.net) and join us in addressing industrywide shortcomings as we advocate for lasting change.

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Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission is prohibited.

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