The Rashida-Jones-produced documentary Hot Girls Wanted debuted on Netflix on May 29. Since then, it's drawn praise for "revealing" that amateur porn's starlets are, as The Washington Post puts it, "depressed and degraded." It's also incited a tide of accusations that the film itself exploits the stories of a few young performers in Miami, ignoring what the adult entertainment industry is getting right. "While there is a need for thoughtful critique of porn and the working conditions its performers face, it won't be found here," VICE wrote. "Hot Girls Wanted offers unexamined statements and vague intimations about how doing porn harms women and watching it warps men." VICE later sat down with Jones to discuss the movie in a just-released video interview. In it, Jones laments that "[young girls] have been given permission to think that porn is a good place to go, [that] it’s a great quick-cash, glamorous way to get famous." We spoke with porn performer Casey Calvert to get her take on Jones's philosophy of porn. She told us that Jones doesn't get to infantilize or speak for her — or for young, female porn performers as a group.
It's an old, tired narrative about the business, but it's safe for the press
"When people watch that documentary, they think that that’s what I do," Calvert observed. "People have been thinking that I’m being exploited and I have no autonomy and agency in what I’m doing since long before that documentary came out." Now 25, Casey Calvert began performing at age 22. She acknowledges that Miami's porn scene is notoriously exploitative compared with that of L.A., where Calvert lives and works — in fact, before beginning her adult film career, she moved to L.A. "to get away from the environment in Florida." But, she stresses that Jones and her film's directors, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, carefully curated and edited a handful of performer experiences to depict problems in the porn industry as though they are its defining features. In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Calvert described the film's message as "Porn is exploitative. Porn is corrupting our youth. Look at these poor girls. They need rescuing... It's an old, tired narrative about the business, but it's safe for the press." "They could have shown a contrast [in the industry]," Calvert points out to us. "Yes, I work with an agent and I work with different companies, but I make my own decisions. I have complete autonomy." One consistent theme of the film, reiterated by Jones in her press for it, is that most of the "girls" performing in amateur porn are too young to make the decision to do so. "[There's the] psychological, emotional, physiological — the physical cost of having sex for a living," Jones asserts in her VICE interview. "[You’re] thinking about the fame part of it, so you might not be the best candidate to make a decision for yourself." It's this tendency to infantilize the "girls" in amateur porn — "girls," not "women" or "young women," is the term preferred by the Hot Girls Wanted team — that particularly frustrates Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, a sociologist who specializes in the workings of adult entertainment, as she shared with Uproxx in a thoughtful takedown of the film. "[The film] highlights the apologetic, shame-filled women, while dumbing down and doubting those who currently enjoy their work," Tibbals observed. The problem with Hot Girls Wanted, then, is not that there are never 18- and 19-year-olds who are manipulated or mistreated when they enter the adult entertainment industry. It's that the film unquestioningly blames porn itself (rather than sub-par working conditions) when the "girls" it features express doubt or discomfort about their jobs. When adults, whether female or male, 18 or 28 years old, choose to perform in porn, they should be respected for their choices, not ridiculed or second-guessed. They should be respected as well by co-stars, producers, agents, camera crews, and every other party who contributes to a film. While there is a very real need for more space for sex workers to discuss what happens when they don't receive this respect, Hot Girls Wanted doesn't provide it. As dominatrix, writer, and activist Mistress Matisse aptly expressed to The Daily Dot: "Hot Girls Wanted was not made by anyone who's actually in the sex industry, and it was very obviously planned to fulfill an agenda, and that agenda is to make the sex industry look bad."
If the film somehow encourages an unscrupulous producer or agent to treat workers better or alerts an aspiring star to potential red flags, all the better. But, that doesn't appear to have been its goal. As a sensationalist portrayal of young women whose jobs happen to be having sex on camera, the film succeeds — but, as Calvert pointed out in her Huffington Post op-ed, "Too much of this country, too much of our culture, is afraid to look at porn in any way other than as this bull in the china shop of our morality." Hot Girls Wanted is no exception, and as a balanced look at the state of porn and porn performers' rights today, it buckles under the weight of its own bias.